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Preventing stress and burn-out using self-tracking technology and Ecoaching

Many people today are experiencing symptoms of stress and burn-out. Despite the increased attention being given to stress and burn-out, the number of employees experiencing its negative effects appears to be growing. On Wednesday 10 November Aniek Lentferink, PhD student at the University of Twente (BMS) and lecturer-researcher in the lectorate on Personalised Digital Health at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, has defended the PhD thesis on her research into the combination of self-tracking technology and persuasive eCoaching to support employees in strengthening their resilience.

Often help is only offered after an employee has collapsed or seems on the point of collapse, while almost all those affected will tell you that the signals of an imminent burn-out had been present for much longer. Lentferink: “By training employees to react promptly to stress indicators, and by increasing their resilience, the suffering associated with the disruption caused by a burn-out is reduced. Self-tracking technology and persuasive eCoaching offer a promising approach to the scalable support of employees in resilience training.” The thesis examines how the elements of ‘self-tracking’ and ‘persuasive eCoaching’ need to be designed in eHealth technologies in order to give optimal support to employees in raising their resilience levels.

Persuasive e-Coaching

In existing eHealth technologies the combination of self-tracking and persuasive eCoaching (an actively influential form of coaching without coercion or deceit) has not yet been given an ideal design. The data collected through self-tracking is often summarised by eHealth technologies in graphs and tables; employees then have to independently reflect on these in order to understand which factors are playing a role in stress and resilience, and decide for themselves what to do to improve the situation.

A persuasive eCoach accompanies an employee during their reflection process to ensure that they gain insight into their situation and determine which strategies to employ in order to deal effectively with stress and increase their own resilience. A persuasive eCoach digitally mentors the employee throughout the entire process; they may, for instance, ask in-depth questions to do with learning how to recognise the early signs of stress, such as faster breathing, recurring thoughts, or certain behaviours. Stress can then be more promptly acknowledged in future situations, and the employee can take quicker action to deal with the stressor. A persuasive eCoach will also use a variety of persuasive tools, such as reminders and personalisation, to stimulate the employee to strengthen their own resilience.

Preventing health problems

This thesis has yielded valuable knowledge that can be deployed to strengthen the mental and physical health of employees, thereby preventing the kind of problems that can lead to absenteeism or early wastage. The thesis is a perfect fit with an important UT (TechMed Centre) ambition to deploy personal digital coaching on the basis of self-monitoring for preventive health care (Health@BMS research programme, Persuasive Technology lab, BMS) and the aim of Hanze University of Applied Sciences to contribute towards a broad social trend to stimulate self-management with regard to health and welfare and the prevention of long-term mental and physical health problems. Both approaches will help to keep the cost of Dutch universal health care under control and safeguard its quality.

More information

The defence of this thesis has taken place on Wednesday 10 November. Aniek Lentferink is a PhD student in the department of Psychology, Health & Technology (PH&T). Her supervisor is Professor J.E.W.C. van Gemert-Pijnen of the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Science (BMS).

Read the thesis: Quantified eCoaching for Resilience Training

drs. M.M.J. van Hillegersberg - Hofmans (Martine)
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