Take Control of Digital Well-being

Technology has an integral role to play in our work and personal lives. But how do we ensure we are the ones in control? And that our well-being doesn’t suffer because of it?

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 13 October 2021
Take Control of Digital Well-being
What isn’t in question is the responsibility that organizations have to safeguard the well-being of their employees – physical, mental and digital.

What is digital well-being?

Let’s start with a little clarification here. We’re not talking about digital devices and apps that are designed to improve your overall well-being.

The primary focus of digital well-being as we discuss it here is ‘’the impact that technologies and digital services have on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.’’[1]

When the Pew Center for Research asked U.S.-based internet users about the impact of digital technology on their lives, the response was overwhelmingly positive. [2] Pew, along with Elon University, then surveyed tech experts, academics and health professionals about the anticipated impact of digital life on people’s well-being. While 47 percent predicted that people will be more harmed than helped in the next decade, 32 percent thought the opposite was true.

Today, organizations need to consider how best to tend to the digital well-being of their people as the third dimension to their overall well-being agenda.[3]

Let’s take a look at a couple of significant challenges your people may be struggling with.

The burden of digital overload

At the height of the pandemic, information overload became acute. The sheer volume of information that poured out of news channels and social media platforms was overwhelming for so many of us. It was, and still is, hard to escape from it. Some of us took to doomscrolling. And even as the pandemic starts to ease in some countries, there is plenty in the news to worry and overwhelm us still.

COVID-19 also forced our social lives online, which meant an increase in time spent communicating with, but also comparing ourselves with, others on social media.

In our working lives, too, it can feel like we are constantly bombarded with messages. Alerts come in via email, Teams, Slack, text, WhatsApp, etc., diverting our attention and interrupting our sense of flow. In one study, more than two thirds of workers reported they wasted 60 minutes per day switching between apps. While 70 percent of respondents said the volume of communications they accessed made it more difficult to get their work done. [4]

Combine this with an increase in online meetings and the sheer fact that much of the work we do is via technology, whatever our role, and it can feel like there is no escaping our screens.

This can have real health impacts. Digital overload can lead to feelings of anxiety, powerlessness and mental fatigue.[5] This in turn can lead to people being unproductive and experiencing “choice overload” – where too many alerts and unfiltered information result in poor decision-making.[6]

A report by Deloitte states that the mental and physical toll of an unhealthy use of technology at work can also lead to poor sleep, the erosion of relationships with family and friends, and even depression.[7]

The problem of digital presenteeism

Another challenge to well-being is presenteeism - when employees feel the need to work long hours or do extra just to be seen doing it. They may be tired, unproductive or even sick, but still feel pressured to work.

Before COVID, presenteeism could be staying at your desk past finishing time. Now many of us have taken this habit home. Studies show we're working even longer hours, just doing it remotely.[8] Digital presenteeism – or E-presenteeism – is setting in. We're answering emails and sending direct messages at all hours. In short, we can't switch off.

The pandemic has also spiked feelings of job insecurity, making many people feel the need to “go the extra mile” to hold down their jobs when others are losing theirs.

So, what steps can organizations take to promote healthy digital habits at work? Here are some tips to explore.

Top tips for digital well-being

1. Demonstrate the behaviors you’d like to see

L&D professionals, leaders and managers can all set a good example by modelling a healthy work-life balance. So, clock off on time – whenever that is – and let people know that you're signing off for the day. Encourage employees to take breaks from their desks by sharing posts of you doing the same.

You can also let your team or wider organization know if you take a sick or mental health day. People will feel less concerned to "be seen" if their boss isn't always around to watch them.

2. Encourage some self-reflection

We can only change our habits and behaviors if we first recognize that there’s a problem. So, encourage your people to reflect on their own relationship with technology at work. You could send out a quick pulse survey that asks a few simple questions, such as the amount of screen-time and breaks that people have in their working day.

Not only will this help to get them thinking about their own digital well-being, it may give you some actionable data across the organization. You could also make digital well-being questions a feature of your annual employee engagement survey, if you have one.

3. Help people to set boundaries

This could mean introducing a ‘No Meeting’ zone across the organization and blocking out the time in everyone’s calendars. Or you could encourage staff to pause email and message notifications, or use emojis on Teams or Slack to show when they are in focus or ‘do not disturb’ mode. Even better, you might get team members to create their own digital well-being charter.[9]

There are also some interesting approaches to explore that use AI and behavioral science to create tools that promote healthier and more productive digital behaviors via automated scheduling and nudges.[10][11]

4. Encourage some screen-free habits

Remind people that there are some easy ways to break away from the screen every now and again, and that regular breaks like these are good for their digital and physical well-being. For example:
  • listening to a podcast or audio book
  • getting up and going to talk to colleagues in person
  • hand writing a reflective journal
  • doing some hands-on practical tasks

The Mindtools article, 7 Screen-Free Ways to Work and Learn, has some great tips on this that you might like to share.

5. Offer support to remote workers

The pandemic pushed working from home onto many of us whether we were ready for it or not. Some colleagues will have taken the decision to make the move to homeworking permanent, or they may have chosen a hybrid approach to work. In which case, supporting them to have a healthy set-up and approach is all the more important.

Consider providing training on how to use any core technology and tools required for their role, and appoint “tech champions” who people can go to for help and advice.[12]

Encourage open conversations to help employees to identify what tech, routine and support works best for them. An online “lunch and learn” session could be a good way to share best practice and to engage remote workers in swapping experiences, challenges and tips. Such sessions also help to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Finally, give everyone the support they need by creating and curating guides and information about digital life and well-being in a place that’s easy for everyone to access.

[1] Clarabut, J (2021). 8 Ways to Improve your Sense of Digital Wellbeing [online] Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[2] Anderson, J and Rainie, L. (2018). The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[3] Worktech Academy (2021) Why digital wellbeing is a top priority for the younger workforce [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[4] Littlefish (2020). Technology and Wellbeing in the 2020 workplace [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[5] Gorman, S&J [2020]. Is Information Overload Hurting Mental Health? [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[6] Deloitte Insights (2018). Positive technology: Designing work environments for digital well-being [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[7] Ibid.
[8] The Guardian (2021). Home workers putting in more hours since Covid, research shows [online].
[9] Peel, A. (2020) Digital Presenteeism [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[10] Deloitte Insights (2018). Positive technology: Designing work environments for digital well-being [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[11] Google. Digital wellbeing [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[12] Powell Software. Digital Wellbeing and the Digital Workplace [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]

About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organizations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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