The ever-growing impact of constant digital connection on our health, wellbeing and business performance
Article is written by Anna Kotwinski, Communications Director and Co-Founder at Shine Offline
The impact that digital technology has had in transforming the way we do business and conduct our social lives in recent years is truly amazing. It has opened up the opportunity for flexible working for so many, but with it a culture has developed where employees increasingly feel the need to be available at all hours. Do these devices really make lives easier, simpler and less stressful when work emails can be sent and received from the ski slope?
Decades before the internet was invented Winston Churchill said: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”. If Churchill found that life back then was full of distractions making it difficult to focus, what would he think of today’s digital, constantly connected world where we are all contactable anywhere at any time and the notions of down time, boredom and contemplation have been all but removed?
24 hours a day we are bombarded with endless streams from numerous sources. These constant digital interruptions through email, texts, alerts and instant messaging disrupt our flow of work and our train of thought making it incredibly difficulty to focus. It is far too easy to procrastinate and waste time on relatively useless tasks and interactions, remaining busy but not productive. And when we take a break from work many people default to their screens – social media and the tantalising bottomless offerings of the web.
This culture of constant connection has a heavy personal toll. The introduction of the smartphone into business has meant that boundaries between professional and personal life are blurred like never before. Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, has spoken about an ‘email epidemic’ damaging UK productivity. A ‘macho’ working culture where employees want to be seen to be available by email at all hours, is causing stress and depression, and in turn making workers less efficient.
Research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute last year found that UK employees unwittingly cancelled out their entire annual leave by checking emails outside of work hours. The study found that smartphones in particular are instrumental in this ‘always on’ culture and that burnout and ill health are the inevitable price.
Work-related stress is costing UK companies millions. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October 2015 found that it accounts for 35% of all work-related ill health and 43% of days lost. There has been no reliable way to record lost productivity due to presenteeism but it is widely acknowledged as being far costlier to business than absenteeism.
HR and Senior Management in the UK are increasingly recognising the need to provide support and develop working cultures that allow staff to switch off. We are however some way behind France. Many French companies have introduced guidelines against using work devices after hours, with some organisations even shutting down servers overnight. Management have found that as a result productivity has increased with employees returning to work refreshed and relaxed after important down time. The French Government have acknowledged the impact that connectivity is having on both the economy and employee wellbeing and have proposed a new ‘right to disconnect’ rule to discourage workers from replying to emails outside of working hours. If approved the bill will be in place by July 2017.
More than ever employees need support and guidance in how they can better manage their digital technology usage in order to safeguard their wellbeing and work-life balance, perform to their best and build resilience. Some simple changes to our habits and relationship with technology can have surprisingly positive effects. At Shine Offline we value the role digital technology plays in our lives and want to help people to use it in a more mindful way. Here are some of our tips on how to improve your relationship with digital technology:
Shine Offline’s tips
- Leave your phone at the bedroom door
A 2014 study found that the average smartphone user reaches for their phone by 7.31am to check emails and social media. At Shine Offline we’ve invested in alarm clocks to remove the smartphone from the bedroom and found by leaving our phones off while we get up, dressed and eat breakfast makes for a better start to the day.
- Out of sight out of mind
If your smartphone is always within arm’s reach, the temptation is to check it every few minutes. Make sure there are times you turn it off, put it in a drawer, your work bag or even a sock! Make some rules about your phone free time – a proper break for lunch, to focus on an important deadline, kid’s bedtime.
- Turn off notifications and use ‘flight mode’.
If the apps on your phone are set to alert you to emails, social media and every time there is a bid on your old sofa on ebay then you will be distracted by it all day. Turn the default notifications off or even remove certain apps from your phone altogether. Make use of ‘flight mode’ and stop texts and calls coming through.
- Good old fashioned pen and paper
Any questions on any topic can now be answered through the power of Google. Amazing. But the distraction of constantly going online can get in the way of a productive day. The solution is simple. Carry a small notepad and pen and every time something pops up that requires you to go online resist the temptation of doing it there and then. Start a list and a few times a day go online to action it.
- Have designated online time
Rather than leaving your inbox and half a dozen browsers open on your computer all day, create certain time frames to be online. That includes deciding a certain number of times a day to check your email as well as designated admin time. Write yourself a task list for the next day, and at the start of the working day tackle your most important tasks before you open your inbox. It takes discipline but you’ll be surprised how productively your day can start and how clearer your mind can be. Be brave an experiment – you’ll soon find what works best for you.
- Be Mindful and reclaim the pause in your day
When we are constantly distracted by technology we are never fully present in the moment. At Shine Offline meditation offers a solution giving a break from constant bombardment of information and some space back to focus on and what is important. Resist the temptation to automatically reach for your phone every time you are sat on a bus, in your lunch break or waiting for an appointment. Try and be mindful and break that habit. Instead of looking at your phone on your commute, read a book, look out of the window or just close your eyes and breathe.
Shine Offline is a wellbeing company that helps people to manage their digital distractions. Our programme of digital technology management workshops empowers people to recognize the impact our constantly connected world is having on them and provides them with tips and tools to reclaim space in their schedule, bringing balance and control back into their lives.
To learn how Shine Offline can help your business visit www.shineoffline.com