Workplace wellbeing: Digital wellbeing is now more important than ever.
Over the past couple of years, employee wellbeing has been a major topic of discussion. At the same time, technology continues to alter our working lives at incredible speed. Things are becoming more efficient, and people are more connected than ever. But it's not all sunshine and productivity benefits...it's time to talk about employee digital wellbeing.
For Part 5 in our Workplace Wellbeing series, we're talking about digital wellbeing at work. Of course, when we talk about wellbeing, physical and mental health (parts one and two) are probably the first thing you imagine.
Financial and social wellbeing are less well talked-about. But the Pandemic made us all value our social connections more. The cost-of-living crisis has got people talking about financial wellbeing. But we can't forget the impact of technology. It's the essential underlying element of the modern workplace. So, employers need to realise they have an obligation to support employee digital wellbeing.
What is employee digital wellbeing?
Think about the leaps and bounds in tech of even just the last few years. The tools we have at our fingertips as employees and consumers have grown increasingly powerful. AI algorithms streamline once time-consuming busywork. A whole industry of virtual workspaces make it possible to work from almost anywhere. And we're spoilt for choice with ways to communicate, asynchronous or otherwise.
But this isn't entirely a good thing. Technology is everywhere. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember when you last went five minutes without looking at a screen. And, like overwork, overuse of technology can take a toll on your wellbeing.
All different types of wellbeing overlap with and influence each other. Sudden physical health issues can endanger your ability to financially support yourself. Poor mental wellbeing might cause you to withdraw socially.
But digital wellbeing has the most overlap of them all. Unhealthy use of technology can affect your employees physically, mentally and socially. We'll be breaking down the mental and social side in the next section. So, for now, let's look at the physical health problems.
From 2020 to 2021, there were approximately 1,420 cases of musculoskeletal disorders per 100,000 workers in the UK. These disorders accounted for 28% of all work-related cases of ill health. As you'd imagine, a lot of cases came from skilled trades like construction. But, by top-level industry, the highest prevalence was actually in human health and social work activities.
A study of workers by the Indian furniture brand Godrej Interio found that 70% of Indian employees spend between six and nine hours a day looking at screens. 65% report eye-strain and vision problems. But, on top of that, 47% report fatigue and headaches.
Granted, the benefit of continual improvement is that we've learned to counteract some of the physical impacts. Ergonomic equipment reduces musculoskeletal disorders, and some kinds of monitors help to prevent eye-strain. But these aren't solutions meant to do away with moderation altogether and employee digital wellbeing needs to be better supported.
How tech exacerbates burnout
Tech advancements have helped businesses take great strides in productivity. But these benefits don't come without cost. It's just that it's often employees paying the price, rather than your bottom line.
The "always online" approach to communication
Gone are the days of messenger pidgeons, or yelling to make yourself heard. These days, if you want to talk to someone over distance, you have so many options. Even a variety of options for the exact same thing. Phone calls, texts, FaceTime and WhatsApp, for example. And those are just the phone-specific options. Then you've got Teams, Zoom, Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn and everything else.
There are so many communication tools, any number of which you might have to use professionally. And with each one on the stack comes the expectation that you pay attention to it. So, in high-pressure work cultures, it becomes more and more difficult to justify being unreachable.
But living 24/7 in expectation of a potential work call isn't living. People need to be able to switch off, or their output becomes unsustainable.
Virtual workspaces blur our work-life balance
The remote work boom has been great for a lot of employees seeking a better work-life balance. But that's all down to how you handle it. If you're not careful, you'll achieve just the opposite.
Remote workers face a unique combination of pressures. They lack immediate oversight, meaning they have a certain degree of autonomy. But a lot of remote staff also feel pressured to put in more hours than they would at the office.
And when you have the tools to work from anywhere, there's often the unspoken expectation that you will. It's deceptively easy to fall into that pattern of "just one more thing." But a big part of employee digital wellbeing is knowing when to step away.
Unnecessary multitasking can be too tempting
There are times when multitasking can be useful. And when you're sitting at a computer, with so many tools behind one screen, it's so easy. But we find that it's usually better to be organised and focused.
Let's say you sit down to write out a daily report. You estimate it'll take about half an hour. It might not feel like much to stop and respond to an email here, or pause to update your goal-tracking there.
Those easy little distractions pile up, and soon, what should have taken thirty minutes takes you a full hour. It may not seem like much. But breaking your workflow makes you much more susceptible to burnout.
How poor employee digital wellbeing impacts businesses
If you don't support employee digital wellbeing, your business will inevitably suffer for it. The Great Resignation saw droves of employees fleeing toxic, unreasonable work cultures. The "always on" culture around tech was a major factor.
In the US, employee burnout costs an estimated range ot $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare costs per year. And then there are turnover expenses to consider. Here in the UK, staff turnover costs an average of £30,000 per employee.
Then there are the incalculable costs of human error to think about. Poor employee digital wellbeing leads to people making mistakes. Digital tools may offer ease of use. But, if your people are using them without regular breaks, they're liable to become disengaged.
How to support digital wellbeing at work
So long as you teach your employees to use it responsibly, tech in the workplace is nothing to be afraid of. So, to finish off Part 5 in our Workplace Wellbeing series, here are some tips for how to enable employee digital wellbeing.
Be selective with your tech stack
With so many digital solutions to workplace problems, it's tempting to try out as much as you can. After all, what if you miss out on the thing that ends up revolutionising your sector?
Well, slow down. Our first tip is not to let tech FOMO get the better of you. You don't want to overload your employees. The more plates they have to keep spinning, the more likely it is something gets broken.
It's better to get your tech loadout down to a few key packages. Remember, anything you install is something you'll have to train new staff to use.
Microsoft Teams is a great starting point. As well as being a good communication tool, it's got a lot of customisability due to app extensions. You can tune the setup for your business needs, then leave people to explore the rest at their leisure.
Review your digital tools choices
To be sure you're doing everything you can for employee digital wellbeing, you need to reflect on the tools you're using. Are there too many tools boating your tech package? Are there clear gaps in your digital suite?
And remember, as with any tech rollout or adjustment, involve your IT people. They'll be able to help you to consider all your options, as well as practical concerns. But it shouldn't just be you and your tech guys making these decisions.
You need to consider what your employees want. The idea is to create the most engaging set of tools for your employees, so of course their opinions matter.
This is where an employee check-in can really come in handy. You can quickly get a sense of how your people feel about their digital setup, and respond accordingly. Best of all, our check-in is light-touch and user-friendly. It only takes a few minutes to fill out an update, making it the perfect tool for supporting employee digital wellbeing.
Encourage regular breaks
It's the advice anyone who works with computers or plays video games has heard a thousand times. Take regular breaks to minimise health risks. But, in a high-pressure work environment, that's easier said than done.
As a manager, you need to encourage people to step away from their desks. If someone hands in work to you, ask if they've had the chance to step away from their computer. It might sound rudimentary. And it is. But people can be hesitant to take a breather, for fear of what you or their colleagues think.
Allow your people to switch off
This is particularly important for your remote or hybrid workers. Remote staff often work more overtime to combat the perception that they're lazy. At other points, it's assumed they're more willing to work longer because they don't commute.
Knowing when to stop is a huge part of employee digital wellbeing. Your people need to be able to put a line in the sand and step away from their desks. Otherwise, presenteeism becomes the norm. This tip is vital for managing remote workers effectively, but it matters for your office-based staff too.
Take a remote-first approach to tech
As we've pointed out, remote workers have some very particular hoops to jump through. A major reason for this is that they're often a secondary consideration. As a result, they're often out of the loop and miss out on key information because it was announced verbally.
Then there's the fact that remote workers engage with the digital side more than any other kind of employee. Human interaction is at a minimum. So, if your digital workspace isn't pleasant to engage with, it's going to affect them first and foremost.
These kinds of issues compound the stress of autonomous work in a digital space. That's why you need to take a remote-first approach to employee digital wellbeing. If information and support are accessible to remote workers, you know your office-based staff can access those things too.
So, those are the basics you ought to cover with your employee digital wellbeing strategy. Of course, wellbeing is just one facet of looking after your teams. To learn more, why not check out our guide on looking after employees during tough times?