The ‘Tech-Lag’ Trauma: How the Fear of Being Left Behind at Work is Putting People Off Parenthood


Over a quarter (28%) of UK workers have said that fears of being left behind by workplace technology are so severe, they have been put off having children, according to a new report from leading tech job board CWJobs. This rises to over a half (51%) of workers in the IT and tech industry.

The Returnship Report investigated the challenges facing businesses when employees return to work after a prolonged absence, such as paternity and maternity leave. The findings indicate that while technology is undeniably helpful in our work lives, it also contributed to stress, anxiety and even family planning rethinks, as workers worried about “Tech-Lag Trauma” – being ‘left behind’ while tech continually evolved in their absence.

The Human Cost of Tech-Lag Trauma

The report looked at 2,000 workers who took a leave from work lasting over three months within the last 10 years. Of those who returned to work, nearly half (45%) reported that their workplace technology had either changed or was totally overhauled – creating a plethora of emotionally charged issues for UK workers.

40% of all workers confessed to feeling ‘left behind’ when they returned to work, over half (57%) said that returning from leave felt like it was their first day again and over a third (36%) struggled to operate the new technology that had arrived in their absence.

The impact of tech-lag trauma is so severe that it is taking a serious toll on the UK workforce’s mental health, productivity and even on our desire to have children. Over a third (38%), stated that their return to work was so stressful they felt nervous or anxious when contemplating taking another break, while for some (28%) – the returning experience was so negative it put them off parenthood.

The Business Cost 

The rapidly evolving technology within the workplace doesn’t just wreak havoc with emotions, but the nation’s productivity too. On average, it took UK workers the best part of a month (4.4 weeks) to feel like they had recaptured their pre-absence productivity, with technological advances one of the most prominent obstacles to overcome.

A third (33%) said it took between one and six months to become fully accustomed to new technology that had been introduced while they were away and a further 38% admitted to struggling with everyday processes and other day-to-day jobs that had been altered by the introduction of new technology.

Reducing the Impact:

Given the human and business costs associated with tech-lag trauma, there is a clear need for businesses to take steps to ensure the ‘return to work period’ is more seamless for their employees.

Unfortunately, the appetite for extra support to help employees return to work seems to be significantly outweighed by the availability of such support. 79% of respondents said they required tech training on returning to work, but despite this, only 31% received full training.  20% did not receive any at all. As a result, over a third (38%) felt left behind by their employer or did not have the support they required to get back up to speed.

There are more progressive ways of helping employees return to work with ease, such as ‘keep in touch days’ and ‘returnships’ – a high-level internship acting as a bridge back to work for more senior roles. Unfortunately, only 21% of respondents had heard of returnships, but when explained well over half (57%) stated they would have benefitted from such a programme.

Commenting on the report, Belinda Parmar, OBE, CEO of The Empathy Business and the former founder of Lady Geek added:

“The Returnship Report from CWJobs is much-needed as it highlights how challenging returning to work can be for so many of us – this is not acceptable.

We spend more than 50 years of our lives at work – that is more time than we spend with our families. We need companies to create programmes and ‘empathy nudges’ that help people return seamlessly into the workplace and feel that they belong again. These ‘nudges’ can be anything from creating spaces where parents can put up pictures of their children to giving people a tech re-education, so they are up-to-date with any advances from Day One.

I remember when I came back to work, I felt lost. I had moved on in terms of my life experiences but felt that the workplace had moved on without me. We need to close the gap and the current ‘keeping in touch days’ are a good idea but these days are often small in number and little effort is put into addressing the skills gap. We need more empathic interventions and a much bigger focus on this if we want to create the workplace of the future.”

Dominic Harvey Commercial Director of CWJobs comments on the report; “The Returnship Report is a vital piece of research that shows how daunting it can be going back to work after an absence. It reveals the stress and anxiety that employees often feel and that is something we need to combat. It is concerning it is acutely felt within the Tech environment which can ill afford to haemorrhage existing talent in the UK. Workplaces need to do more to bridge the gap for their employees when returning to work and create a working environment where they feel continually supported.”