What counts as too much screen time? In our plugged-in society, most of us spend more than 5 hours a day looking at a screen. For those in office jobs, that number is closer to 9 hours.
While technology is essential for most workplaces, it’s also important to provide staff with opportunities to disconnect. In this blog, we’ll discuss the risks of too much screen time, how it can negatively affect job performance and employee health, and, most importantly, what employers can do about it.
What are the consequences of too much screen time?
Eye strain and headaches are two common consequences of screen exposure. After prolonged use of a digital device, 65% of people report symptoms of eye strain, including eye irritation, dryness, fatigue, and blurred vision, and more than 20% suffer from headaches. These symptoms can make it difficult for employees to focus, and, in severe cases, may even cause them to miss work.
Many studies have linked heavy technology use with insomnia and other sleep disturbances. The blue light from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, keeping people from enjoying a full night’s rest.
Not having enough sleep can decrease productivity, body functionality, and overall energy. When insomnia persists, it can develop into larger health issues that more medical attention.
Screen time is also strongly connected to dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone involved in the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits. Whenever we see a new social media post or get a reaction to one of our tweets or photos, the brain releases dopamine, swinging us towards positivity.
Although these dopamine highs feel great, they can also lead to “fear of missing out” (FOMO), and the desire to compulsively check social media every 30 minutes. The FOMO mentality can be very damaging, causing many people stress or anxiety when they are unable to get their needed dose of social media.
According to Psychology Today, excessive screen time can even impair brain structure and function in people who are highly addicted. Consequences include shrinkage of grey matter, reduction in the white matter’s ability to communicate, increased cravings, and poorer overall cognitive performance.
Importantly, most of this damage occurs in the frontal lobe, a part of the brain that is strongly linked to success in several key life areas. Everything from academic and career success to relationship skills and sense of well-being can be affected, all of which are essential to workplace development.
Prolonged technology use is also associated with several chronic health conditions, which increase benefit plan costs and disability claims in the long term.
According to a 2008 study, for example, the more time a person spends in front of a screen, the higher their chance of developing metabolic syndrome (biochemical and physiological abnormalities linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.) Excessive screen use can also lead to sedentary behaviours such as excessive sitting and social isolation, causing problems such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
What are some solutions and what can employers do?
Turn FOMO into JOMO
So how can you help your team stay healthy and focused? By encouraging employees to take time every day to tune out, you can help them turn the perpetual fear of missing out (FOMO) into “JOMO”, the joy of missing out. By practicing JOMO, staff can learn to disconnect, spending less time online and more on their personal well-being.
Get Off the Screen
Finding time to disconnect at work can be tough, but there are lots of simple things you can do to help. Motivate employees to recharge and take a nice break from the blue light of their screens by adding a 10-15 minute walk to their daily schedule. They can try it alone, with a friend, or in a group!
Another way to preserve your team’s eyesight is to introduce the 20-20-20 rule: After 20 minutes of staring at a screen, look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Third, say goodbye to desk lunches! Increasing social interaction at the office is one of the best ways to combat screen addiction. By creating a designated area for people to eat lunch together, you’ll make it easier for your team to socialize, boosting morale and general well-being.
Facilitating a Lunch and Learn is another great way to get employees off their phones while also keeping them engaged and teaching them new skills.
Finally, make sure employees take their holidays seriously! According to one LinkedIn survey, 70% of people never disconnect from work, even when they're on vacation. Unplugging while away can make a huge difference for employee well-being. If staff are having trouble “switching off”, you can point them to one of the many Google and Apple features that help track and limit smartphone use.
Implement a Wellness Program
If you really want to show your team that their health is a priority, consider adding an employee wellness program. These customized benefits programs can be provided as part of overall compensation, and can include:
- Regular one-on-one check ups with employees about their wellbeing and how to improve their workplace wellness;
- In-house fitness facilities, gym memberships, and walking or running groups, all of which encourage employees to unplug and move around;
- Ongoing employee education, such as newsletters and workshops, on important health issues;
- Mindfulness meditation training to reduce stress;
- And employee wellness challenges that celebrate personal health achievements with motivating rewards.
At the end of the day, addressing screen time with your employees is about creating healthier habits.
To preserve your team’s well being, promote productivity, and keep employees healthy in the long run, it’s in your best interest to get them away from their devices whenever possible. That could mean scheduling in more away-from-the-desk time throughout the day, implementing a workplace wellness program, or encouraging employees to disconnect while on vacation.
The investment in time, effort, and resources will help strengthen your team, and keep productivity going strong for years to come.
Ready to learn more about the benefits of an employee wellness program?