Jenny is fast becoming a tech addict. She checks emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram at all hours of the day and night, seeking that hit of dopamine that technology delivers to hook us and keep us coming back for more. But the constant checking is having the opposite effect - she’s anxious, depressed, sleepless and feeling disconnected from family and friends.
Jenny’s not alone. A 2017 U.K. study found that 34% of people had checked Facebook in the previous 10 minutes.
According to a U.S. study, 80% of smartphone users say that checking their phone is the first thing they do in the morning.
“While tech addictions like Jenny’s may start at home,” says WSPS consultant Krista Schmid, “they can be fuelled by workplaces that insist - implicitly or explicitly - that employees be ‘always on’ and available, even after the workday is over. A constant barrage of work emails and texts can leave people feeling overwhelmed, hindering productivity, focus, health and mental well-being, all of which will have negative repercussions for the workplace.”
But businesses and employees can take actions to help employees develop a more balanced approach to technology at work and at home, says Krista.
Here are three examples from auto manufacturers:
- Volkswagen shuts down some employees’ work emails when they are off shift.
- Daimler offers employees the option of having incoming emails automatically deleted while on holiday. The system notifies the sender that the person is not in the office and that the email will be deleted. This also frees returning employees from the stress of a packed inbox.
- Closer to home, for safety reasons GM has banned the use of smart phones at work while the person is walking.
What workplaces can do
Krista offers workplaces the following strategies to help employees develop new habits around tech use. The benefits: more productive and mentally healthier employees.
- Ensure your company culture establishes and communicates healthy tech policies. Consider implementing a no texts or emails after closing time policy or utilize delay delivery options when sending emails. Ensure clear communication between managers and employees on expectations for email response times. Don’t expect employees to be always on — reward productivity rather than availability. Managers, supervisors and executives need to follow these policies and set an example of healthy tech habits.
- Use digital reminders to encourage employees to take a break when they are on email and texting for long periods.
- Encourage employees to eliminate distractions by turning off push notifications on all their devices and unplugging from all devices for part of the workday.
- Promote face-to-face and device free interactions, such as team lunches, creative meetings or company-wide gatherings.
What employees can do
Employees can also take steps towards healthy tech use in their work and personal lives.
- Stay connected to co-workers in real time: send voice messages or make phone calls instead of texts or emails.
- If using devices for work, shut them off at the end of the workday.
- Never use devices before bedtime. They hamper a person’s ability to have a restful sleep.
- Download apps and extensions that help cut back on distractions and usage. Some can block intrusive apps and filter communications; others let users set daily limits for device use.
How WSPS can help
- WSPS mental health consultants can help you create a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. Find out more from our on-duty consultant: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).
- Learn more about how our workplaces can affect mental health, and what we can do about it, at ThinkMentalHealth.ca, an online resource developed by WSPS and our other Ontario health and safety system partners.
1 Communications Market Report, Ofcom, August 3, 2017; p. 28; www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/105074/cmr-2017-uk.pdf
2 Allison Stadd, “79% Of People 18-44 Have Their Smartphones With Them 22 Hours A Day [STUDY],” AdWeek, April 2, 2013, www.adweek.com/digital/smartphones/
3 Rich Haridy, “The right to disconnect: The new laws banning after-hours work emails,” New Atlas, August 14, 2018; https://newatlas.com/right-to-disconnect-after-hours-work-emails/55879/
4 Kayla Matthews, “Four smartphone safety lessons we can learn from GM,” ISHN, April 10, 2018; www.ishn.com/articles/110568-four-smartphone-safety-lessons-we-can-learn-from-gm