Why digital wellbeing is a top priority for the younger workforce
Taking a ‘digital detox’ is not an option in the current lockdown if people early in their careers want to communicate. So, organisations need to make doubly sure the digital wellbeing of their employees is being addressed
Workplace wellness has become a vast industry worth US$47.5 billion according to the Global Wellness Institute. Yet under 10 per cent of the global workforce has access to a workplace wellbeing programme. Those programmes that do exist primarily focus on physical and mental wellbeing. However, there is a third dimension to workplace wellbeing: digital wellbeing. In an age when our lives are being consumed with technology, digital wellbeing is perhaps the most crucial element of the wellbeing agenda, particularly as it encapsulates aspects of both physical and mental wellbeing. Despite this, digital wellbeing is often overlooked by employers.
‘Our lives are consumed with technology, but digital wellbeing is often overlooked by employers…’
A recent survey commissioned by contact lens specialists Acuvue found that office workers spend 1,700 hours a year in front of a computer screen, which equates to 6.5 hours every day, and that 37 per cent of workers attributed excessive screen use to headaches. These results are based on a survey of 2,000 office workers, but they do not consider the hours spent outside of the workplace staring at smartphone and tablet screens.
The ubiquitous nature of technology in both our social and work lives means that simply taking a ‘digital detox’ is not always an option, particularly when it is the only form of communication with colleagues and friends during the current period of lockdown. This means employees need the equipment and encouragement to adopt healthy technology habits throughout the day, and this is something that employers are only now wising up to.
Impacts of digital overload
While organisations may benefit from tech-enabled productivity in the short term, the long-term effects can be detrimental as the line between personal life and work continues to blur. This trend has led to an ‘always on’ employee where employees are expected to be contactable and accessible at all times. According to research from Deloitte, the ‘value derived from always-on employees can be undermined by negative factors such as increased cognitive load and diminished employee performance and wellbeing’.
Digital overload is thus one of the defining problems in society today. Constant streams of notifications are a barrier to productivity and make it difficult to attain the state of flow required to carry out complex or analytical tools. When people do take a break from their work, they typically default to another screen to browse social media or play games.
The effects of technology addiction, according to a Deloitte report, include poor sleep – exposure to blue screen light emitted by mobile devices reduces the melatonin required for a good night’s sleep. Employees are now exposed to this light during the day and in the evening. This makes regular sleep patterns hard to maintain and can trigger negative health outcomes. Technology is also having a profound negative effect on social wellbeing. While it can enable us to engage in relationships across distances and time zones, this sometimes comes at the expense of face-to-face relationships with friends and family, which can often be neglected.
In addition, information overload is not only distracting, but potentially mentally damaging. With phones and computers constantly alerting us of all the opportunities available, becoming double-booked is not infrequent and can lead to anxiety and depression when the user needs to skip one meeting in favour of another.
Our smartphones trigger the reward system in our brain, which has the same impact as physically taking drugs; this means that it is possible to become addicted to our smart phones. So much so that The Collins Dictionary defines the term ‘nomophobia’ as ‘a state of stress caused by having no access or being able to use one’s mobile phone’.
This kind of constant connection takes a heavy physical and emotional toll. As more research comes to light about the detrimental effects of digital overload, organisations are starting to take a proactive approach to employing an overall wellbeing strategy to get the most from people and technology.
Strategies to combat digital overload
Organisations have a duty of care to employees. It is up to the employer to set boundaries, guidelines and policies to ensure their employees are working in the best environment possible for them. The French Government acknowledged the impact that constant digital connectivity was having on employee wellbeing and imposed a ‘right to disconnect’ policy. This rule banned workers from sending or replying to emails outside working hours. As a result, many French companies implemented guidelines against using work devices after work hours. While this marks a recognition that humans have the right to ‘switch off’ technology, it was unsympathetic to people who need or have a preference for non-traditional work hours.
Some employers are now taking measures to mediate the use of technology by their staff by establishing guidelines and restrictions, and implementing ‘soft touch’ software architecture tools to encourage healthier technology habits. But simply setting guidelines for employees to switch off from their technology is not enough.
Supporting digital wellbeing
The extensive use of technology, particularly within the younger working generations, has a significant physical impact too. Greg Dizac, senior director of product management at Logitech, explains that ‘when employees are faced with physical and mental challenges, they cannot perform to the best of their ability’. If digital wellbeing isn’t addressed, it creates a Catch 22 whereby physical discomfort from constant use of technology leads to detrimental mental wellbeing – which again has an effect on the physical wellbeing of an employee.
Around four in 10 Americans say pain interferes with their mood, activities, sleep, ability to work or enjoyment of life. These people may not necessarily need a workplace running programme or a wellness centre, but instead the right ergonomic equipment from the outset to prevent further pain. Providing the right tools has reciprocal benefits for organisations as workers perceive their employer to be respecting their needs and health because they are going beyond what is merely ‘required’ from them. In turn, this leads to a happier, more productive workforce.
Good ergonomics is good economics
By 2023 it is predicted that 90 per cent of employees will need basic computer skills to conduct their work. This means that the amount of time we spend sitting at our screens will only increase, placing stress on our muscles and natural posture. The average worker currently moves their mouse an average of 100
feet per working day, or over six miles every year, according to a 2019 Wellnomics report. This movement places a lot of strain on the wrist if an ergonomic mouse is not used and that wrist pain can contribute to a 15 per cent loss in productivity, according to the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.
‘The average worker currently moves their mouse an average of 100 feet per working day, or over six miles every year…’
There are both direct and indirect costs related to poor ergonomics of computer equipment. US businesses alone spent US$1.5 billion in 2018 on rectifying repetitive motion workplace injuries, whereas using a good quality ergonomic keyboard and mouse can prevent those significant costs to organisations.
The science of ergonomics
Ergonomic tools are not simply comfy chairs and sit-to-stand desks, their design is a precise science between efficiency, performance and usability. Logitech’s ErgoLab based in Switzerland is a design lab where muscle activity and angles are measured within the context of using a mouse or keyboard. This combined approach of science and performance allows Logitech to hit the optimum sweet sport between physiology, performance and efficiency.
The lab focuses on natural body formation and the impact that constant technology use has on our bodies. In order to enable efficient digital work, compromises have to be made to the natural placement of our bodies. Logitech has worked on the mechanics of this and delivered an optimum solution through its Ergoseries range of keyboards and mice.
These ergonomic devices consist of vertical mice to reduce pronation – or downward pressure – in the wrist. The design mimics the natural posture of a handshake and is best for reducing wrist pressure and forearm strain. The trackball mouse is aimed at reducing movement, increasing comfort, improving hand posture, and consequently alleviating wrist pain. Split keyboards allow arms and wrists to rest at their natural shape, reducing the stress on muscles. The wave keyboard improves the posture of the hand using a comfort curve which feels familiar to the human form, while the split keyboard allows people to type naturally with a curved, split key-frame to improve posture and accommodate for a relaxed typing position with good wrist support.
Appealing to Gen Z
However, it is not just functionality that plays a key role in ergonomic devices. Desirability of the design plays an increasingly important role too, particularly amongst image-conscious younger working cohorts. Greg Dizac of Logitech says, ‘The products need to be attractive for Generation Z and Millennials to want to use it’. These generations expect their employers to consider their health and wellbeing, it is no longer an afterthought. Their relationship with technology is also more profound and complex. According to Forbes magazine, ‘Generation Z addresses new technology as an “extension of themselves” rather than an addiction or compulsion.’
Ergonomic products therefore need to balance design and comfort without compromising productivity for the generations that will comprise more than half of the workforce in the next five years. For the most part, ergonomic mice and keyboards conjure up images of awkward, clunky devices better suited for the back office rather than pride of place on an office table. Logitech’s ErgoLab has taken this into consideration in its design process to create custom designs which are crafted to be aesthetically-pleasing and comfortable to use.
Digital wellbeing brings a perspective to health and wellbeing that is holistic, blending physiological wellbeing with mental wellbeing. As the workforce increasingly depends on digital technologies, organisations will no longer be able to ignore the impact of digital wellbeing on their employees. The basic starting point is ergonomic equipment because this can act as a preventative model for injury and alter the way workers perceive their employers for the better. Broader encouragement of digital wellbeing by companies is the wider frame within this provision sits, creating a comprehensive approach to a priority need – especially at a time of global pandemic when technology is critical to keeping the workforce connected.