EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies
We worry about technology taking our jobs in the future. But what about the impact technology is having on all our lives today?
A survey reported by new.com.au in June 2023 found that over three quarters of Australians say they want physical bank branches to stay open.
However, in the five years to June 2022, 1600 Australian bank branches were closed, with a disproportionate number closing in regional areas. And the trend is one-way.
When a bank branch closes, human interaction is reduced.
Banking and shopping online, self-service at supermarkets, ticket machines at train stations, automated check-ins at airports. (Try ringing a call centre and dealing with a chatbot.)
All across the country, the touchpoints we share with other people are being destroyed.
When was the last time you saw a company’s mission statement that read:
Will we sacrifice people’s welfare and community spirit to advance our twin goals of cost cutting and profit maximisation?
But isn’t that what’s happening?
You may not think that a brief conversation at the bank or the station ticket office matters that much. However, research shows that even a 30- second conversation with a barista at your regular coffee bar or the clerk in your local post office makes you happier and more connected.
Last week a survey by a Japanese university found that the more social contact people have, the less likely they are to suffer from high blood pressure, dementia and mental health problems.
Most of us would guess that the elderly are those who are severely impacted.
Many elderly people don’t bank online – and they don’t buy their train tickets from a machine. The lack of human connection not only causes day-to-day practical problems, but adds to high levels of loneliness.
And a reduction in human connection isn’t the case not only for elderly, it’s right across every part of our society.
There is something else that is fundamentally worrying.
In his book ‘The Power of Talking to Strangers,’ journalist Joe Keohane discussed a survey by a leading research institution flowing the pandemic.
The survey found that levels of loneliness in young people are higher than those recorded for the elderly. (In the US, research regularly finds that over 20 percent of millennials say they have no friends at all.)
In ‘The Lonely Century,’ Noreena Hertz writes:
‘Take the young who, perhaps counterintuitively, are the loneliest generation of all. I first became aware of the problems a lack of human connection causes in young people when I was teaching graduate university students. For me, not only was it obvious many struggle when I saw how they interacted during group assignments, but also as they sat in front of me in my office full of anxiety and doubt. I was struck by how many confided in me how lonely and isolated they felt.
Hertz tells of a professor at one of Americas prestigious universities. ‘Many students turn up without the most basic in-person communication skills, he says. ‘Indeed, we have even started running a class called ‘how to read a face in real life.’
The pandemic, lock downs and remote work clearly haven’t helped.
If young people don’t understand the value of being together in the workplace, where they can learn from more experienced colleagues, they’re unlikely to engage effectively in teams or deal confidently with clients.
For older generations human connection is something we have always taken for granted.
A simple handshake, a sincere enquiry about how you’re doing, a ‘well done’ from the team leader. These day-to-day actions have a bigger impact on workplace culture than we previously realised.
A survey, quoted by Forbes magazine in October 2022, found that 97 percent of CEOs felt that their company culture could be improved by stronger human connection. And 75 percent of workers said they would consider changing jobs if they were guaranteed more connection with their team mates.
All around us human connection is being seriously eroded and it’s a sad development.
‘Technology, which should serve us and make our lives better, is diminishing our social bonds and undermining our human connection that are essential to our happiness.’ (From an article in ‘The Sunday Times,’ 16 July 2023)