Stockholm university

New digital tool helps manage stress in the workplace

Work related stress can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Could an ICT-based tool help us cope with stressful workdays? Manoja Weerasekara has explored the topic in her PhD thesis.

Portrait photo of Manoja Weerasekara, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV).
Manoja Weerasekara has first-hand experience from the industry that she has studied. “Before starting my academic career, I worked as a software engineer”, she explains. Photo: Åse Karlén.

The Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV) at Stockholm University has an ongoing collaboration with NSBM Green University in Sri Lanka which has resulted in several PhD theses. Manoja Weerasekara successfully defended her thesis in June, 2023. We took the opportunity to chat with her about her work.


Congratulations! What was it like to be a PhD student?

“Thank you so much. I began as a PhD student at DSV in September 2017, and it has been a memorable and challenging journey with many ups and downs. I was located in Sri Lanka during the whole period, working at NSBM as a full-time lecturer. I also gave birth to my little girl precisely one year after I started working on my PhD. It was an exciting period… But I was determined to manage all of these things and reach my dream goal.”


Wow, that’s a lot to manage. How did you cope?

“Looking back, I have a sense of satisfaction. It was indeed challenging but I managed to complete my PhD journey with seven publications in different journals and conferences, and one in review process. I had a lot of support from everyone around me. I want to mention professor E A Weerasinghe, the vice-chancellor of NSBM Green University, who provided a few of us the opportunity to pursue our doctoral qualifications at this prestigious institution. My supervisor, professor Åsa Smedberg, was the guiding star of my PhD journey. She always stood beside me and supported me. Her understanding and dear nature motivated and strengthened me to stand up and walk again when my road was unclear and full of obstacles. My fellow PhD students and NSBM colleagues motivated me to finish this up, and spread warmth to my cold path. And of course, my family was there throughout – helping me whenever I needed moral support. My husband Chaminda supported me in taking up my research work, and my little girl provided me with sweet talks and kisses that made my sky brighter.”

Manoja Weerasekara’s thesis concerns occupational stress and how it can be managed. She has focused on Sri Lanka – a developing country – and the software industry where employees often experience high levels of stress. The industry is fast growing and contributes significantly to the nation’s economy.


How did you become interested in this topic?

“I think it came to my interest as my roots lie there. Before starting my academic career, I worked as a software engineer attached to a multinational company in Sri Lanka. If we look at the software industry in Sri Lanka, it is a significant economic contributor that brings foreign currency to the country. Since the software industry is a highly demanding, human capital-intensive industry, employees are always in demand. Thus, they are more vulnerable to falling into stressful situations. When stress levels are high, it impacts the individual resulting in several psychological, physiological and psychosocial imbalances. It also impacts the organisation’s work productivity negatively, which could ultimately have a ripple effect on the societal level as well. This problem is not limited to the software industry; every occupation is subjected to a stream of stress factors. I believe it is worthwhile to see how we, as researchers, can provide viable solutions to address this problem.”

Manoja Weerasekara has carried out eight different studies, including literature reviews, questionnaires to software employees, focus group discussions, and interviews with HR and stress experts. This has resulted in an intervention for occupational stress management among Sri Lankan software employees, supported by ICT (information and communications technology). In her thesis work, Weerasekara has conceptualised, designed and evaluated a tool to manage stress.


How does the tool work?

“The proposed intervention is designed as a self-help intervention that has two main spaces: individual space and collaborative space. The individual space provides different interventions that can be performed based on the individual’s user preferences. The collaborative part creates a space where users can collaborate with peers and experts to manage their stress by seeking support and providing support to those in need.”

“The main challenges of existing interventions were related to engagement and adherence, which constrained potential benefits. Therefore, I designed my intervention to enhance user engagement and adherence. I wanted to make it easy to use, responsive to user needs and enjoyable. During the evaluation stage, we noticed that all the stakeholder groups involved – software employees, HR managers and stress experts – were positive towards the usability, usefulness and aesthetics of the intervention. They valued the support and guidance mechanisms provided. Moreover, the intervention has its roots in the existing practices of HR managers and stress experts. This gives us a green light for possible adaptation within organizational and professional practices. Even though this intervention was designed for a specific occupational category and geographic location, many possible transferrable design principles were also derived during the process. We believe this will inspire similar intervention designs in future.”


And now you’re off to a new adventure – in Australia!

“Yes, and I’m indeed excited! This is a brand new start for me and my family. It’s a coincidence that the completion of my PhD thesis and receiving an opportunity to move to Australia aligned in the same month. I hope this new destination will help me expand my wings and allow me to engage in academic and research work. I have always loved to teach, research and be with young learners, inspiring and guiding them. I believe this added qualification and my over 12 years of work experience in Sri Lanka will help me pursue my next dream”, says Manoja Weerasekara.


More information

Cover of Manoja Weerasekara's PhD thesis

Manoja Weerasekara’s PhD studies have been carried out within the collaboration between the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV), Stockholm University, and the NSBM Green University in her home country Sri Lanka.

The title of Weerasekara’s PhD thesis is “Design of an ICT-Supported Intervention for Occupational Stress Management: Case of Sri Lankan Software Employees”.

The thesis can be downloaded from Diva

Manoja Weerasekara’s main supervisor is Åsa Smedberg, DSV. Co-supervisors are Hélène Sandmark, Ramazzini Research, and Ganga Karunathilake, NSBM Green University.

Annika Vänje, Dalarna University, was the opponent at the thesis defence which took place June 13, 2023, at DSV.

Contact Manoja Weerasekara

About the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV)

Text: Åse Karlén