Digital – the 5th pillar of workplace wellbeing
Laura Willis, co-founder of Shine Offline, looks at the role digital technology takes in the lives of legal professionals, and how it should be considered the 5th pillar of workplace wellbeing.
Modern digital technology has enabled flexibility for employees and made the new hybrid working model possible. In this agile, digitised world our devices are central to everything we do and offer so much by allowing us to connect to colleagues, share information, and stay on top of our work.
The benefits of a digitally connected world are clear, but there is a flip side to being constantly ‘on’ - distraction, overload, a lack of headspace and less opportunity for true connection as we rely on email and instant messenger to communicate.
And with AI becoming ever more prevalent in the workplace there is a danger of these impacts becoming even greater. As content creation becomes easier, information overload may increase; automated decision making could lead to less collaboration and human connection; and algorithms will more successfully predict and trigger our online behaviours making us more susceptible to the commercial agendas of others.
A right to disconnect
A right to disconnect law exists in countries such as France, Germany and Canada. As part of its leadership campaign Labour is proposing similar legislation be put in place in Britain. This would mean all employers would be legally obliged to prioritise their digital cultures and have a policy in place which allows their staff to disconnect from work in their personal time. Organisations seeking to address and improve digital workplace cultures would be one step ahead if Labour do come into power.
There are currently five workplace wellbeing pillars that businesses use to focus their employee wellbeing programmes: mental, physical, social and financial. The link between digital behaviours and each of these pillars is clear:
- mental health is impacted by excessive or out of control social media usage and a lack of work life boundaries;
- a sedentary, screen-centric lifestyle gets in the way of physical health;
- text based communications has come to replace conversation in both personal and professional lives and impacted people's social wellbeing;
- and the algorithm-led attention economy, pulling us all in to consume more and more is affecting our finances.
By introducing digital as the 5th pillar of workplace wellbeing all other pillars will be enhanced and employees workplace stress and overwhelm will be better managed.
Shine Offline’s 2023 research revealed that 86% of people feel stressed and overwhelmed by their digital technology and 89% feel distractions from their devices are negatively impacting their ability to do their jobs.
If we can help our people to understand their current relationships with technology, improve their digital habits and normalise conversations around digital wellbeing at work then technology really can play a positive role. Organisations need to change the script so that smart, focused work becomes celebrated alongside proper rest time as only by doing so can work quality be maximised and mental health protected.
In a world where we can respond to emails within 30 seconds of receiving them, take our work with us on our lunchtime walk, check our inboxes while putting kids to bed, everyone plays a part in improving the digital culture at work. By each looking to our own digital habits and discussing personal preferences we work towards a trusting and transparent workplace where the power of a focused mind is celebrated and rest space away from technology is advised.
Solutions can be fairly simple: encouraging people to sync use of instant messenger ‘mini-meeting’ chats at work can reduce the overwhelm and frustration workers can feel from the constant unscheduled interruptions from their chat feed; pausing the inbox for short periods throughout the day to focus the mind, rather than working in continuous react and respond mode; picking up the phone to talk something through with a colleague rather than ping ponging emails for hours. Simple actions such as these will counteract the drive back to our inboxes, putting us into a mental state where we’re never fully focused on the task at hand.
By putting digital workplace wellbeing at the forefront of every organisation we can move forward through the hybrid, digitised working world making the most of our minds whilst protecting our mental health.
Laura Willis is the co-founder of Shine Offline. UK-based Digital Wellbeing at Work experts, they have helped thousands of people all over the world to improve their digital workplace behaviours.
Shine Offline are hosting a free information webinar called Digital - the 5th pillar of workplace wellbeing on Monday 13 November at 10.30am. This 60 min session will share lots of practical ways individuals and organisations can improve their digital workplace culture. Book here.