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The Danger of Technology in the Workplace

October 17, 2013

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We are obsessed with technology. Digital, online, in the cloud solutions for everything are available for almost every conceivable function. There are apps for everything – almost.

This has created a double edged sword. One edge has sharpened the possibility of improved performance and productivity, taking the pain out menial tasks and enabling enterprises to contain the payroll, often the biggest regular investment an enterprise makes. That’s great, but...

The other edge is dangerous. It is keeping people from relating effectively in the workplace.

I once had to intervene in a consulting firms’ breakdown of relationships. They wouldn’t speak to each other face to face, all communication was by email. There were only seventeen staff, all on the same floor and all with their own office space. They were separated only by a thin wall and a shared wide corridor leading to their amenities room. They wouldn’t greet or acknowledge each other and they rarely appeared in the amenities area together. They didn’t feel comfortable talking to each other anymore.

In another case, very common these days, the entire supervisory and leadership team were disconnected from their people, not by space or time, but by technology – the email trap, the data collection & reporting trap, the information overload trap. They were mainly glued to their chairs on front of a computer. No wonder employee engagement, performance and productivity are big issues!

The most common outcome is that people, particularly leaders, are no longer comfortable having crucial or vigorous conversations with their people. They rarely know how to help, support, coach or deal effectively with unacceptable behaviour and performance, and are unable to hold people accountable without risking the loss of trust and respect – if they had it any longer in the first place.

I marvel at our stupidity of trying to improve employee engagement by creating even more digital interface. Herzberg’s Dual Theory, laying the basic factors and motivators for employees to be engaged and willing to be their best in the workplace, still hold true. MBA’s and HR professionals all study Herzberg, but rarely is it applied at work.

We are humans and need human interaction, face to face, eye to eye and ear to ear. We need to be in each other’s reality, listening, empathising and responding.

Until we are fully replaced by robots – probably sooner than we think – let’s keep our human skills functioning well. We’ll get more engagement, performance, productivity and enjoyment from work.

What do you think?

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