Get tech right to tackle worker burnout and digital overwhelm

Burnout is a complicated problem, and an important one for business leaders to address. There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution, but technology is one thing that organisations would be wise to get right.Recent data from Vitality found that the average employee works but underperforms during an average of 50 days a year due to burnout, stress, and insomnia – costing the UK economy £138bn. This corroborates findings from our own Work Innovation Lab which revealed that 4 in 10 UK employees say that their organisations are currently experiencing ‘a high rate’ of burnout. Concerningly, executives often don’t spot these problems until they’ve already taken a toll.

Burnout is a complicated problem, and an important one for business leaders to address. There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution, but technology is one thing that organisations would be wise to get right. Over the last few years, businesses have onboarded a flurry of tech tools, often with unexpected downsides. Our research shows that workers spend over a day and a half each week inefficiently navigating too many disconnected tools to get work done. But while too much tech can be part of the problem, the right tools can also be part of the solution.

In today’s digitally-enabled work environments, where employees are inundated with notifications and messages, the line between being connected and distracted is thin. The complexity of tech stacks has become a significant productivity barrier, creating overwhelm and burnout. In fact, our research shows that overtooling is causing almost a quarter of enterprise employees to be less efficient, 20 percent to have a reduced attention span, and 19 percent to miss messages and updates from teammates.

Where can we improve this? Standardising tech tools across teams can help to reverse the ineffective collaboration processes that lead to burnout. Despite the multitude of different roles and skills within organisations, the majority (75 percent) of UK workers would prefer that everyone in their organisation use the same set of core collaboration technologies, helping to avoid a siloed approach that tends to cause friction.

Using data-driven tools, consistent across departments, can provide teams with a real-time view of top priorities, clarity around accountability and deadlines, and understanding around how cross-functional work ladders up to company goals. This can help to achieve a harmony between productivity and employee wellbeing.


How (carefully-integrated) AI can take this further

With a spotlight on helping workers save time and increase efficiency, it’s no wonder that our Work Innovation Lab found that 92 percent of employees want to use AI to enhance some part of their jobs. AI can supercharge the effectiveness of an organisation’s tech stack, helping teams streamline moments of collaboration and minimising endless recurring meetings and notifications that contribute to burnout.

AI can also reduce the time that workers spend on less fulfilling ‘busywork’ tasks like status updates or summarising meeting notes, giving people more time to spend on what humans are best at – collaboration and creative thinking. Through automating routine tasks, AI can reduce the need for multiple overlapping tools, which is a key driver of worker overwhelm. Over a third (34 percent) of UK workers say that AI will help reduce the number of collaboration technologies needed at work.

However, a rushed rollout of AI tools risks exacerbating the existing problem. Leaders must be mindful to implement AI with care so that it truly helps employees redirect time and resources to meaningful work. Currently, only 13 percent of UK employees say they’ve received training on how to use AI in their day-to-day tasks – giving a clear directive to enterprise leaders to address this gap. Such training should emphasise how humans and AI can work together – enhancing human capabilities rather than replacing them. In other words, achieving human-centred AI.


Creating a better way to work

Technology can either improve or exacerbate worker burnout and overwhelm. We have agency over which of these turns out to be true, but it is up to enterprise leaders to get it right. Tech stacks must be thoughtful and streamlined so that workers don’t spend their days simply replying to messages, searching for information, or navigating a maze of different platforms. The considered use of AI can further support this effort to build smarter ways of working, when deployed with human-centricity in mind.

Those workers who are set up with the right tools will have the capacity and headspace to focus on more crucial and strategic tasks – and log off on time.