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Researchers may have found a new way to spot stressed employees

Photo: Chainarong Prasertthai/iStockphoto

Zurich — The way workers who use computers “type and click” may be an indicator of their stress levels, results of a recent study out of Switzerland suggest.

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, or ETH Zurich, asked 90 people in a lab to perform office tasks that included data entry, data analysis and planning appointments. They monitored participants’ mouse and keyboard behaviors. The participants also answered survey questions about their stress levels at several points.

“While some participants were allowed to work undisturbed, others also had to take part in a job interview,” an ETH Zurich press release explains. “Half of this group were also repeatedly interrupted with chat messages.”

The result: “People who are stressed move the mouse pointer more often and less precisely and cover longer distances on the screen,” ETH researcher Mara Nägelin said in the release. “Relaxed people, on the other hand, take shorter, more direct routes to reach their destination and take more time doing so.”

The researchers also found that people who feel stressed make more mistakes when typing and “write in fits and starts with many brief pauses.”

Nägelin and her colleagues are testing this stress model with employee data in Switzerland and via the use of an app. However, workplace stress detection could raise “some thorny issues,” researcher and psychologist Jasmine Kerr acknowledged.

“The only way people will accept and use our technology is if we can guarantee that we will anonymize and protect their data,” Kerr said. “We want to help workers to identify stress early, not create a monitoring tool for companies.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics.

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