User experience and wellbeing at work

A few years ago my user experience -team took part in “Work Goes Happy” -event, which is all about wellbeing at work. Many who heard about it were surprised: “What has user experience (UX) got to do with wellbeing at work?” A lot, actually. Employees often use some kind of software in their work. The way users experience the software has enormous effect on workload and work satisfaction. Take for example the following story about Eddie Employee.

UX and wellbeing at work - title image

Eddie Employee and a typical workday

Let’s imagine Eddie Employee, a 45-year-old office worker from Company X. Eddie’s workday is about to start. First, he has to log in to one of the four applications he needs in his work. Each application has a different password, and it’s easy to get mixed up with them. Now the password of the first application has expired. Eddie tries to change the password, but the application does not accept the new password. Nor does it tell Eddie what kind of password would be ok. Eddie is a little bit annoyed but succeeds at his fourth attempt.

There is an important announcement in the application home page. But the text is so small and the contrast so poor that Eddie cannot see what it says. His eyesight has gone worse with age, and it is difficult to see if the announcement is important. Eddie squints, until he remembers he can zoom the text bigger. Now he can see that the announcement doesn’t concern him. Eddie’s head has started to ache.

Eddie is a smart person, but this application makes him feel like he’s stupid.

It’s time to begin the actual work. But Eddie has difficulties finding the correct function. It is hidden behind so many clicks and odd labels, that Eddie never remembers where it is. It’s frustrating to have this complicated user interface. Eddie has had to make himself a 20-point checklist to remember all the steps one has to take to avoid errors. Eddie is a smart person, but this application makes him feel like he’s stupid. Eddie is starting to get displeased.

A cartoon about bad UX and unhappy employee

When Eddie finally finds the right page, he starts filling a long form. Once he has entered all the information it is time to save. The application shows and error message but doesn’t tell what’s wrong. Eddie goes through the form once more and tries to guess what needs to be fixed. The form doesn’t tell him that. Eddie tries three times without success and feels the sweat on his forehead.

Suddenly Eddie remembers there’s an innovation workshop coming up after lunch. He was supposed to think about ideas beforehand. But the morning has almost passed fighting with the application and trying not to curse out loud. Eddie does not feel innovative or creative at all. All he can think of is the information the application lost. How can it be so difficult to fill in one form?

It’s possible Eddie isn’t feeling much of a work engagement at this moment.

Finally Eddie asks help from a colleague, who hands him over an old training material. Colleague keeps it on his desk, because he often runs into problems with this application, too. Eddie copies the training material and returns to his desk. He notices the application session has ended and logged him out. “Damn it”, Eddie cries out loud. His face is turning red with anger, and he wishes all these darn applications could just go to hell. It’s possible Eddie isn’t feeling much of a work engagement at this moment.

The better the UX the better the wellbeing at work

All the things Eddie went through are examples of situations where usability is bad. Bad usability causes bad user experience. Poor Eddie’s memory, patience, eyes, creativity and self-esteem where tested. They were even harmed. Eddie could not finish a single work task during the morning. It’s frustrating for Eddie, but it’s even worse for Company X. It’s bad business. When a bad application keeps harming employee’s work, he cannot do productive, meaningful work.

So does user experience have something to do with wellbeing at work? Yes it does. The better the UX, the more fluent the work. The more fluent the work, the better the wellbeing at work.

A cartoon of good UX and happy employee

(Originally published 8.3.2016 in Fyyri’s blog)

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