This year, the world changed overnight, and organizations globally have had to change with it. Although digital consumption has been on an upward trajectory for years, the rapid shift to remote work for many has led to a feeling of constant connectivity and digital overwhelm.
A survey conducted by Monster in July of this year found that over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home (a 20% increase since May). While this statistic is alarming, it is not that surprising given that employees are spending over half of their day on connected devices and 55% of them are still checking their email after 11pm at night.
The confluence of an always-on culture combined with Zoom fatigue, continuous partial attention, and a myriad of other unique environmental stressors means employees are feeling more pressure than ever before. Digital wellness is no longer a luxury; it’s a business and lifestyle necessity, with 83% of employees looking to their employers for guidance.
It’s time for organizations and employees to update their approach to wellness, recognizing that it is impossible to talk about mental or physical wellness without addressing digital wellness in our current environment. Digital wellness is not simply about unplugging for periods of time; it’s a holistic way of thinking about how, when, where and why we are interacting with technology and what the effects of those choices might be on other aspects of our health. It’s about giving intention to our attention.
While the challenge of helping employees to find digital balance may seem daunting, organizations like the Digital Wellness Institute offer incredible resources for upskilling your workforce to digitally flourish across multiple domains of their lives including productivity, communication, relationships, digital citizenship, health and more. To get you started, here are six strategies to help your employees rethink their relationship to technology:
1. Ground your time online
The average smartphone user spends an average of 2.5 hours per day, or the equivalent of 38 days per year, on their device. Where does that time go? Without setting our intentions for how we interact with technology, it’s easy to get sucked into doomscrolling on our devices or even compulsively checking our email. The first step towards finding digital balance is taking a moment to think about your values and whether or not they align with how you are spending time on your devices. In the same way that the third prong on a plug helps to channel energy and prevent shock, so taking a moment to ground your time online can help you feel more balanced and fulfilled.
2. Use data to fuel your learning
Technology is making it easier for us to study and learn about ourselves, so we need to make sure we use the data we collect to take meaningful action. Apps like Apple’s Screentime, Microsoft’s Habit Tracker, or Android’s Digital Wellbeing can provide a baseline for how you are using your time. However, there are so many other wonderful apps that can support positive digital health by providing insight into impulse control, focus, mood, and more.
Homing in on what it is we need in our lives and how we can make it better gives us a sharper edge to be able to be our best selves. This growth mindset is part of a larger strategy to promote lifelong learning. Of course, technology can’t make actionable changes – we have to make the conscious decision to do this for ourselves. However, once we have the data, we can shift away from unconscious negative behaviors toward more intentional positive choices.
3. Establish digital boundaries
Our smartphones enable—and encourage—continuous connection and as such they are continuously at our fingertips. One of the greatest challenges is establishing better boundaries around technology, as an explosion in new platforms, gadgets and apps over the past 10 years has caused too much distraction in people’s lives.
A recent study found that even when you are successfully ignoring your smartphone while concentrating on work, the mere presence of your device next to you reduces cognitive capacity. Your brain is actually anticipating that it might get a message and devotes resources to the potential message rather than staying focused on the task at hand.
One simple strategy is to put your phone well out of sight and reach when you’re working, setting certain times during the day to check for messages and calls. That way, those triggers that are so addictive - like being needed - are kept under control.
4. Focus on the present
COVID has accelerated uncertainty about the future. People are constantly browsing online to predict what is going to happen with the economy, politics and the future of work. Research has found that large amounts of such unfocused online activity drives fear, causing depression and lack of engagement.
On the other hand, individuals who embrace gratitude – focusing on the present – have been able to significantly improve well-being.
Using this as a strategy in the workplace can increase team engagement and well-being. For example, starting a meeting with three things that you are grateful for, or giving positive praise to colleague, frames the conversation around the present and the past rather than the future. That differentiator helps people look at what they can do in the day to day to make happiness a choice in the way they are living their lives, rather than focusing on an uncertain future.
5. Take it one step at a time
The most effective way to make positive life changes is to focus on one change and, when accomplished, move to another. Individuals who can pick one change they want to make and focus on doing that positive change for a period of time, like 21 days to begin to develop a habit, are significantly more effective than those who try to do everything for a long period.
Help your employees build these positive changes into their career development pathway, fostering continuous learning and skill development to help them feel more fulfilled and engaged. Employers might recommend online courses, thought-provoking TED talks, or even inspiring YouTube videos to further learning. For employees who want to pursue a degree, partner with a company like Wiley Beyond to match their goals with degree programs across more than 30 universities. It saves hours of digital research. Your employees will find an affordable program with positive outcomes impacting their future and your business.
Remember, the key to digital wellness is not limiting the amount of time spent online; rather, it’s about helping employees to use their time online more effectively and in a way that supports their overall health and well-being. Encourage employees to stick to their learning endeavors until they have consolidated the change, resisting the temptation to rush headlong into something else in the meantime.
6. Create a culture of positivity
Lastly, creating a culture of happiness is one of the keys to long-term success in the workplace. Optimism, the perception of stress as a challenge to overcome versus threat, and social support are the three predictors of long-term success and happiness.
Intentionally creating building blocks of positive skill sets within the workplace, such as journaling, gratitude, acts of kindness, meditation, and exercise, helps increase individual happiness as well as create a positive culture.
While technology will continue to dominate our everyday lives, we do have some control over how we use it to digitally flourish, rather than fade away. Employers can play a key role in helping employees to thrive in the digital era, and those who do will reap the benefits on a healthier and more engaged workforce.