MENTAL WELLBEING IN AN AGE OF DISTRACTION

It’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of technology. But are we paying for it with our mental health?

In the last week alone, do you know how many times you’ve used your smartphone to log into your social media account, check your emails, or google a question?

Having a high-powered computer at our fingertips has completely revolutionised the way we live, work and socialise. It’s hard to imagine going back to a life without Google Maps, Instagram, Netflix and Uber Eats. But all this convenience has come at a cost – and one of the greatest casualties may be our mental wellbeing.

 

Is technology making us sick?

The potentially addictive nature of social media with its dopamine-inducing notifications, likes and comments has received a lot of media attention lately. As well as being addictive, research is also linking platforms like Facebook and Instagram to anxiety, poor sleep and an inability to concentrate1. And a recent study has shown that limiting the use of social platforms to under 30 minutes a day can, ironically, reduce loneliness2.

And the negative effects of technology aren’t limited to our social lives. Over-reliance on Google, instead of memories, to recall events – or on GPS, rather than our powers of observation, for directions – could be detrimental to our recall and problem-solving skills. And the way we use technology in the workplace may be undermining our attention span, increasing anxiety and creating disengagement at work.

The good news is, workplaces can act to limit the harmful impacts of today’s apps and platforms – without having to resort to a pre-1996 workplace.

Here are five ways you and your team can stay in control of tech at work – and create a more engaging and rewarding workplace.

 

1. Keep personal devices out of meetings

There’s nothing more distracting than the buzz of text and email notifications – or co-workers not-so-surreptitiously checking messages or their Twitter feed while you’re trying to talk. So make it a workplace rule to leave phones checked at the door – or at least on silent and out of sight during a meeting.

 

2. Put an end to after-hour communications

Remember working 9 to 5 – knowing that when you walked out of the office, you didn’t think about your job until you returned the following day? These days, many employees are expected to check workplace emails and texts and take work calls well into the evening – which effectively means their workday never ends.

In response, France has given employees the right to disconnect through the El Khomri law – where organisations must negotiate with staff how and when they can be contacted outside of working hours3. Meanwhile in Germany, some companies are setting their servers so that they don’t deliver email outside certain hours4.

Even if you don’t constantly email your staff after hours, just knowing they are contactable can create stress for them. So establish some guidelines around after-hours contact for your business – and stick to them.

 

3. Resist the urge to respond instantly

We live in a time of instant gratification, where it’s expected that questions or problems will be dealt with immediately. As a case in point, a recent analysis of anonymised email and instant message data found that the average knowledge worker checks their email or instant messages once every six minutes5.

Constant interruptions make it very difficult to get anything done – particularly tasks that require continuous focus. So to combat this, set realistic expectations with your team about how long they – and you – should expect to wait before getting an answer to a message or email.

Try to schedule in periods of time where you’re not to be disturbed. Silence your notifications and mark this time as busy in your calendar, so your team knows that, unless it’s an emergency, they need to leave you alone.

 

4. Get rid of distracting apps

Do you pick up your phone every time you have a spare minute? Try giving yourself a distraction-free break – at least every once in a while. Disable your internet browser, remove your emails (or just your personal ones, if you really need to access work emails while you’re on the go) and delete social media apps. You may be surprised at how little you miss them.

 

5. Lead by example

If you’re a business owner or leader, remember that you set the tone at work. So if you’re responding to emails at 3am or checking your texts during meetings, your staff are likely to follow suit. So make sure that you’re taking a balanced approach in the way you use technology – and encourage your team to do the same.

 

1. Healthline: The FOMO Is Real: How Social Media Increases Depression and Loneliness, December 9, 2018

2. Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, et al ‘No More FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression’, Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 2018

3. International Labor and Employment Law, The right to disconnect: a new right for French employees? February 2, 2017

4. Rich Haridy, The right to disconnect: The new laws banning after-hours work emails, August 14, 2018

5. Jory MacKay, The State of Work Life Balance in 2019: What we learned from studying 185 million hours of working time, January 24, 2019