The digital era has created a society in which being constantly connected is the norm. In the UK, 87 per cent of 16-75-year-olds has a smartphone, and the average person spends more than 24 hours per week online. Yet, with increasing levels of digital engagement, when do people get time to switch off? The start of the New Year is a good time to evaluate individual digital usage and create positive behaviours that boost mental wellness.
Encourage Workers to Switch Off
Employers can help facilitate an improved digital balance by actively encouraging a better work and life balance. With access to work emails commonly available through individual’s smartphones, employees have a tendency to check and respond to work emails in non-working hours.
This can create stress and worry, or a culture in which a worker’s perception is that they must respond ASAP. Adults can also take advice from guidance published this year, which found little evidence that that amount of screen use had a harmful effect on children but did find links between high screen time and obesity and depression. Importantly, it recommended not to use screens in the hour before bed, so not to impact sleep.
With this in mind, the advantages to encourage staff to switch off, do outweigh the 24/7 connectivity argument. If the brain is given downtime, people tend to be more productive, supporting better concentration, creativity, health, resilience and happiness.
Most digital usage focuses on personal tasks, with only 34 per cent of the UK’s 32.3 million workforce using smartphones for work. Whilst individuals must take responsibility for their own usage, employers could do more to introduce advice about digital downtime.
Digital Employee Guidelines
Setting guidelines for employees using smartphones for work, encourages employees to have a more mindful approach to digital usage. But senior people must lead by example. There is little point telling workers they do not need to respond to emails after hours and then emailing them all evening.
Create a culture where people do not feel guilty for not checking emails constantly. Regular updates on health and wellbeing, help to remind staff about ensuring that they should have balance.
Encourage employees to be mindful of the recipients’ time zones or working hours. This can be challenging in businesses that operate internationally, or with flexible working, however some companies use an email delay or schedule function to manage various work patterns.
Some firms encourage workers to put on an out of office reply on Friday’s, stating that they will respond to emails on Monday. Whilst others have implemented software to stop emails being sent to employees during non-working hours, releasing them when they ‘on the clock’. This physically removes the ability for an employee to work.
In France, the law states that employees are not required to read work-related emails in non-working hours and in Germany, the law prohibits managers from emailing workers out of hours, unless it is an emergency.
Tools and guidance used by employers depend on the nature of the business, but with our reliance on the digital world increasing, employers should take steps to educate and encourage healthy digital downtime.
Digital Mental Health Impact
Around 30 million consumers are expected to spend a record £25 billion on ordering goods via their smartphones in 2019, which is no surprise given that one in five people spend up to 40 hours a week on the web. This digital activity has revolutionised the way in which we do many of our daily activities.
It offers efficiency and the ability to achieve much more, from any location, which complements our busy lives. And over the next year, it is expected that the proportion of work tasks on the smartphone will continue to grow.
Yet, for mental health wellbeing, individuals must ensure that they have time away from the digital world. A digital detox provides the brain with the downtime to reflect and be more positive.
Employees must take control of their own usage, but employers can create a culture in which it is ok to switch off and provide tools in which to do so. Start 2019 with a positive approach and do not be a slave to the smartphone…all the time.
- *Statistics from: U Switch, December 2018 / Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, June 2018 / Ofcom Technology Tracker, Telecoms and Networks, August 2018 / The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) guidance