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Ep 379: The Right To Remain Human

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As our working lives become ever more focused on digital screens and devices, how can employers ensure that they support their employees’ mental wellness? Also, with the growth of digital tracking and surveillance in work technology, how can HR step up to defend cultures and long term productivity by ensuring people are treated as humans and not machines.

My guest this week is Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina, founder of Consciously Digital. Anastasia writes, speaks and coaches extensively around the impact of devices on wellbeing and the challenges around the use of technology at work.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Screens, devices and mental health

• Establishing boundaries and regaining balance

• How employers can help

• Productivity and deep work

• Digital presenteeism

• Tracking and surveillance

• Why HR needs to step up

• What would an ideal world look like

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transciption:

Appcast (0s):
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Matt Alder (53s):
Hi everyone. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 379 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. As our working lives become ever more focused around digital screens and devices. How can employers ensure that they support their employees’ mental wellness. Also with the growth of digital tracking and surveillance in work technology, how can HR step up to defend cultures and long term productivity by ensuring people are treated as humans and not as machines? My guest this week is Anastasia Dedyukhina, Founder of Consciously Digital.

Matt Alder (1m 33s):
Anastasia writes, speaks, and coaches extensively around the impact of devices on wellbeing and the challenges around the use of technology at work. This is a must listen for anyone who manages a team. Hi Anastasia and welcome to the podcast.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (1m 50s):
Hello, thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (1m 52s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (1m 58s):
Sure. So my name is Dr. Anastasia Dedyukhina. I run Consciously Digital, which is a global network of over 90 digital wellbeing coaches. So it actually started with my personal journey of working in digital marketing in London and getting rid of my smartphone before it became a thing, was six or seven years ago. And I thought, and I was qualified as a coach at the time and I started telling people, you know, how liberating it felt. And they started asking me, how do we coach others, how to do that? And I would say, “No, not really. I never thought anyone would be interested in this”, but actually I kept being asked about this.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (2m 41s):
So I thought, well, maybe this is the coaching niche. So I ended up helping people then ended up writing a book about it, doing a Ted talk and then was getting too much work. So then started referring this work training specialists in helping people better handle their digital habits. And that’s how this whole thing appeared. And now obviously with the pandemic when everyone is glued to their screens and when everything is happening online, it has become really big things. So now we’re working all around the world.

Matt Alder (3m 19s):
That’s really interesting because however much we thought we were addicted to or rely on screens and devices five years ago, that’s obviously changed exponentially grown exponentially since then. I suppose, taking the pandemic as a starting point in here, obviously for many people, not everyone, but for many people, people having to work remotely or from home or whatever, it might be in a much more digital way than before. So, lots of reliance on video and screens and all that kind of stuff. And it very much looks like that’s going to continue indefinitely in some shape or form. What are the dangers of that?

Matt Alder (3m 59s):
What are you seeing happening? How’s that affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (4m 3s):
Well, first of all, I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating to go back to the caves and get rid technology, I don’t think it’s reasonable. I think we really need to have a balance. And the balance is what actually we are very clearly lost over the last two years. Cause when we work with various companies, you know, like from big banks to small startups, all around the world, we see the same thing. People say that they absolutely don’t have any more boundaries. Right? You don’t know when your work starts, when your work finishes. You pay your bills online, you talk to your colleagues online, like you do everything online basically.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (4m 49s):
And having no boundaries, actually, no, it might sound like a great thing for the employer because hey, employees are working longer. We know, for example, from the UK data that people on average have been logging off at 8:00 PM as opposed to 6:00 PM. So they were working on average two hours longer every day during the pandemic. That’s it sounds like, oh, that’s great, right? Like they’re doing more. But actually no, there’s lots of research that shows that a. Longer hours do not add up to productivity; b. The mere expectation of, you know, work-related emails or so, side of the working hours actually can damage not only mental health, but also the relationship with people in your family.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (5m 35s):
And then it ultimately all gets down to a longer term consequences. So the productivity did not suffer when people were working from home, they were probably equally productive. Some maybe we’re feeling even more productive, but longer term consequences are that people are more likely to lose motivation. And we already see this happening. There are more dangerous in terms of career development, because we still tend to promote people that we see in person that we know in person. And just the overall, you know, like the anxiety, the exhaustion, the stress, and like, it’s okay when we do it like two months, three months when we do it two years, this already becomes a little bit too much.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (6m 29s):
And in fact, now in most countries where people have been working remotely for the last year or year and a half, we see a huge wave of people leaving their jobs. Right. And this is actually one of the reasons why it’s happening.

Matt Alder (6m 43s):
I think you described lots of things there that lots of people have experienced or are experiencing. Now, as you made it clear, you’re not an advocate for getting rid of technology altogether. And obviously that’s not going to happen, we’re very reliant on technology and it looks like we will be even more moving forward. So with that in mind, what would your advice be to employers in terms of making things better for that for their people when it comes to the way that people work and the way that people now communicate.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (7m 12s):
I think, there is a very fine line, you want to have a flexible working policies because, you know, maybe for some people, indeed it does work well to, you know like, work at 8:00 PM or 10:00 PM because daytime, they want to spend time with their kids. But I think employers should have a very clear guidelines for people saying that actually, it’s not an expectation that you work outside of the working hours. You’re not going to be promoted based on, you know, how fast you answer somebody’s email. If it comes like a 10:00 PM on a Saturday. I think educating people about the importance of the boundaries is super, super important.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (8m 4s):
Plus considering, what will be the best way to combine, you know, working from home, working from the office, giving people a choice for that, as opposed to forcing them, you know, just to stay home or just to work from the office and being very, very careful with using workplace surveillance tools. Now, there is a very fresh example of one of the software companies that’s founded by a Russian guy, but they do international software, who fired over a hundred people because the software suggested that they were not logging in or not spending enough time in their email or in other programs.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (9m 1s):
Now you want to be very careful with that because if you know, you work, somebody works in customer support and email is their main tool, then yes, probably this means they’re not doing their job well. But let’s say for example, for myself. So what I do, I write books. Yeah. Doesn’t have an email open all the time. Is this really helping? Is this showing that I’m being productive? Or is this actually something that is going to distract me from my work? And when an employer installs a workplace surveillance software and 80% of big employers actually have done it over the pandemic, they should be very careful with what kind of assumptions they’re making about people and what it means to be digitally productive.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (9m 53s):
For a programmer who’s writing a code, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily need to be using, you know, like their email a lot. So this expectation of instantaneous replies and the expectation of the person having to be available at any second is actually damaging because we do need time for focused work for deep work. And now were digital tools have been shown to distract us. So we need the space to focus. And we also need the space to, you know, let the mind wander, not be constantly stimulated.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (10m 34s):
We’re going now in the topic of like– where is it heading in the future? To the future. These are the skills that we will need to be developing more. And we don’t see them right now.

Matt Alder (10m 47s):
That’s really interesting because when you talk about– when workplace surveillance gets talked about, what tends to happen is, you know, everyone seems to be very much up in arms against it. But it still happens and it’s growing, and as you say, there are more and more companies using it. I mean, do you have any more examples that you sort of found in your work?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (11m 6s):
I mean, thee are– you just, you know, open the recent news. I mean, Microsoft is a great example– I don’t know if it’s great, but it’s one of the biggest example that Microsoft launched this productivity score in their latest office. And they were saying, oh, manager. So we will show you the productivity score of your employees if you share with us their details. And then we can compare it to watch people in your area too, so you can rate you know, rate them against their peers and other companies. Which sounds like a great idea, but there are so many limitations to this idea, right?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (11m 48s):
Why does someone sitting in the Silicon Valley has no idea about my job, decide what makes me productive? So there is this danger. It’s not that the control in the workplace surveillance is bad per say, especially as long as it is within the legal framework. The problem is that it is based on very, very simplistic assumptions and humans are complex beings, right? In like, you cannot say that if I’m on my email all the time, I’m being productive, I’m being lazy. Yes. But this is a total misunderstanding of what is productivity? How humans are productive, how human productivity is different from a computer productivity.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (12m 31s):
And I think it’s especially important for HR to educate themselves, but also educate the senior management about these things. Because if you think about HR have traditionally being well, having a say, right, like a big say in the companies, because companies have been a people driven. Increasingly we see that companies become technology driven. So the forecast say that about 50–47% of the jobs in the U S will be automated in the next 10 years and about a third jobs in the UK. And we’re not even talking about blue collar jobs, but white collar jobs. So now we see more and more that it is the CTO or the Chief Technical Officer, technology officer who has a say and says, oh, we’re going to purchase this software.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (13m 22s):
And it’s going to do this job. And it charged, [inaudible] just a given the chance or given an opportunity to just go to the employees and say, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen.” Right. They don’t have any more, you know, like the say in how is this going to effect the company culture? I very much believed that this needs to change. I very much believe that, you know, HR people should– and they have the competency to stand for the people of the company and say, okay, you know, like, so you are buying this very expensive software, you know or like you’re signing off for whatever. Microsoft is suggesting to you or anything else, what impact this is going to have?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (14m 2s):
How are we going to take managerial decisions based on this? How are we going to make sure that everyone is aligned? And this is happening, right? Everyone is in the rush. And this is a very big danger because you cannot treat people as machines. They’re not machines.

Matt Alder (14m 18s):
I think that’s so interesting. And that kind of, that rove HR as we sort of move towards automation, is absolutely critical. And I think that there just needs to be a lot of education understanding and listening that needs to go on. Because while there is a huge amount of talk about wellness and mental health and culture and all those kinds of things, you do see very strange things happen. So for example, you know, I noticed a few companies during the pandemic where were offering their employees wellness services for want of a better word, which was, come join us on zoom for some yoga. And it was like, what people really needed was a break from their screens, not more screens, or let’s have a team out on zoom or whatever that might be.

Matt Alder (15m 3s):
I think that there is a lot of work to do with that. So the balance between wellness and technology and everything moving forward. I mean, how does that reflect what you were saying?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (15m 14s):
Yeah. I mean, I wanted to sit, start me on that. It’s really painful. Look, I think this is not just an HR trick. This is, so we’re living in the moment in the historical moment when we think that technology is a solution to all our problems. We living in the moment when we honestly think, or we like to think that if I install a mindfulness app, nothing against the mindfulness app, this is going to solve my mental health issue. It doesn’t, I’m sorry, it’s like any piece of technology and, you know, like any developer will tell you this or any data scientists is based on very limited assumptions.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (16m 0s):
Just like any AI system, because of the number of options it has to consider. So I still think it’s HR [inaudible] right? Why would the big banks in the UK, just announced that to support the mental health effort, it subscribed, you’d go to the subscription to all its employees to a mental health app. Is there anything bad with that? No. Is this going to solve the problem of people who are maybe burning out, who are maybe working longer hours because the company doesn’t want to hire, you know, an extra person?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (16m 40s):
So like you need to work for two people or maybe because your boss is in the US and he or she wants you to have the call at midnight. No. Right? Like it’s not something that you go and you just meditate. Or I think one of this, if I’m not mistaken was Amazon, they installed in– like meditation booths in their warehouses. So basically you can just go and chill for 10 minutes. It’s not about that. Right? It’s like if the system is broken, then you know, it’s like putting a band aid on a [inaudible]. And technology companies have great people who work in sales, don’t get me wrong.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (17m 19s):
They’re all great. I know lots of them. And I, myself worked in technology. And of course when they come and they offer the solutions they say, yeah, they know like you have a mental health issue. You have burnout issue. Like here is the app. Everyone is going to be healthy. But that’s ridiculous. Yeah. And I think it’s very dangerous to become the hostage of the simplistic view of the world. You know, I’m sorry. He was like, you cannot, you know, just like give an app and hope that people will be, you know, like sorted out. It’s not how it works. So I think the, there is a place, you know, for yoga lessons, for the apps, but people need a. Flexibility, b. They sometimes might be better off with just money given to them so that they will be able to sort out and c.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (18m 9s):
Culture needs to be tackled first and foremost, because if you have employees burning out one after other, no app is gonna fix that. Yeah. Look at the workflows. Look at the style of management. There needs to be much more serious than intervention.

Matt Alder (18m 25s):
To focus in on that a little bit, because I always ask people about their future and their predictions for the future and all those kinds of things. From your perspective, what would an ideal world look like? What would you love to see happen? What would you love to see employers doing and thinking over the next sort of 18 months to two years.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (18m 46s):
I would like to see processes simplified and very clear guidelines. And I think it will help everyone. I would also like to see fewer digital tools but better used, because when you have, you know, like 20 digital tools and the information has been shared between various channels, all we do is just switching between them. Which probably means that the company need to spend a little bit more time thinking about how they can integrate that technology tools. I would like people to have more flexibility, you know, like really take advantage of the situation that like with remote work, to be able to choose and the management to be really well-educated about assessing people based on their KPIs and their work results and not when their work, where they work from and whether they spend time on the email or not, unless they’re in customer support.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (19m 46s):
And which is a different function. Probably these three things.

Matt Alder (19m 50s):
Final question, where can people find you and your work?

Anastasia Dedyukhina (19m 57s):
So we have a website it’s called www.consciously-digital.com. It has a number of free tests that you can take. If you want to know, you know how you’re doing with your digital habits. If you’re really independent. Blog posts about, you know, the latest neuroscience research and applicable. And I’m very happy also to answer any questions, if any of you may have them just feel free to use the contact form on the website. Thank you.

Matt Alder (20m 29s):
Anastasia, thank you very much for talking to me.

Anastasia Dedyukhina (20m 33s):
Thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (20m 35s):
My thanks to Anastasia. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram, you can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time. And I hope you’ll join me.

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