Stress is universally experienced by people of all type irrespective of their age, stage, position or status. There might be many causes of stress at work, called stressors, such as, workload, feeling undervalued, targets and deadlines, nature of assigned work, taking on other people’s work, job dissatisfaction, lack of control over the work, long working hours, frustrating work environment etc. Another set of stressors could be related to colleague or manager behavior, like the lack of support, pressures, bullying, interruptions etc.
Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost due to stress-related absenteeism and employee non-productivity. According to a research report, employees suffering from high-stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure.
The Global Benefits Attitudes survey also found that levels of workplace disengagement significantly increase when employees experience high levels of stress. The study of 22,347 employees across 12 countries including the UK and US, revealed that over half of those employees claiming to be experiencing high-stress levels reported they were disengaged. By contrast, only one in ten employees claiming low-stress levels reported they were disengaged and half of this group claimed to be highly engaged.
After identifying the problem which is global, it was important to understand the demography, intensity, and types of activities people do destress. So sending out a quick survey was eminent to identify few of the above-mentioned aspects. This survey would give me a brief understanding of my target audience. Some of the findings are:
- Stress related to work pressure reduce theproductivity of employees drastically.
- Employees under stress cannot focus and concentrate on work.
- Work and life balance is disturbed.
- Employees do not feel connected with the company, so they might leave the job.
- Employees do not feel they have ownership of projects.
- People tend to get habituated to stress.
Based on this data I quickly created a proto-persona
After the initial survey, I conducted 11 interviews to better understand how people deal with stress. What are their stressors? and how do they make sure they manage it. I had to connect with people on LinkedIn and Slack channels, I spoke with 3 women and 7 men. Initially, I spoke with only developers in the digital industry. Listed below are a few findings:
- Move away from digital world: Employees prefer to avoid their devices and prefer interacting with the physical world such as taking coffee breaks, water cooler talks, exercising, playing games or just hanging out with their colleagues.
- Breaks: Employees believe that short breaks help them immensely to focus and/or find solutions to their problems.
- No ambiguity: The tasks and delegated work, which is appropriate to the skillset the employees offer, with additional learning time for their development.
- Motivation: It mostly comes from a sense of achievement and incentives in any form. Appreciation of their work is also a huge morale booster.
- Improved concentration: Employees tend to use mobiles and other devices a lot more when they are distracted. To attain the focused state they prefer less distractions. They move to quieter places, listen to music or putting their mobile’s notification in off mode.
- Positive stress: Sometimes employees work effectively under stress.
After a glance at these findings, I quickly realized that it seems the stressors may be different but the reaction to them could be the same as any other digital profession. I wanted to validate that, so I spoke with 4 more people which included a UX designer, product manager, a tester and a product designer. Ultimately, it resulted in the same reactions people give irrespective of which digital profession they do. I broaden my scope to digital professionals rather than keeping it focused on just one. It could give me a better understanding of any sedentary position jobs and provide a digital solution which can be one for all.
Now that I had identified whom I need to target, it was important to identify an accurate and convenient way of measuring the stress. What I was proposing is a system which currently exists in the public domain. Using Heart rates, heart rate variability, galvanic skin responses (GSR), accelerometer, gyroscope, and GPS I can effectively identify the stress. All these sensors except for GSR is present in apple smartwatch. I have considered building my hypothesized digital product around it.
Going through a lot of literature and identifying the best way I can attack this problem I found a couple of papers which exactly match what I was hoping to achieve. A machine learning algorithm with matching pursuit with couple dictionaries for normalization I established a model which fulfills my needs perfectly, a valence against arousal model.
After studying all the related papers, here is what I devised for the purpose to achieve my objective of identifying stress. There are two reactions to stress namely eustress and distress. In an occupational scenario, the conditions will always be stressful but the intensity will vary vastly. The reaction to that stress is very relative and it is important to identify it to make proper predictions of the patterns. This is an X, Y coords chart in which X is valance and Y is the arousal. I have categorized stress which will normal in the bottom right. Eustress; positive reaction to a stressor (motivation); is top right, and complete left quadrant is Distress; a negative reaction to a stressor. The idea is to move people with a negative reaction and make them react to any stressor positively. This chart when plotted with the generated biodata, I will be able to assist the emotional reaction to that stressor and guide the user to a much more comfortable position to deal with it.
It is known that high intensity occupational stress and work pressure among digital industry professionals reduces their performance level drastically and may also lead to anxiety, affecting health and wellbeing. Currently there is no convenient way or system to identify / validate / quantify existence of stress developed at work and effectively deal with it at once by empowering individual professionals to control their stress patterns.
I believe that if we use biofeedback such as heart beats, body movements, and GSR, measured and collected through digital devices, then we will be able to make intelligent guesses about emotion states of the users and quickly support, motivate, suggest or take such appropriate actions that might help maintain stasis, ultimately boosting efficiency of digital industry professionals by at least 15% over a year, with exponential growth over the following year.
Now that my identification process and target audience is locked, it is time I start creating the required documentation for my thesis. Here onwards all the articles will target each specific activity I performed to achieve my target.