Smartphones and being contactable 24/7 means that the line between our work/life balance has become blurred. But are digital detoxes just a fad, or will they save your mental health?
The ‘always-on’ culture has been generating a lot of worry from researchers over the past decade. Starting when we’re teenagers, we grow up with our smartphone in our hands and checking it becomes as unconscious a response as taking a breath. A normal phone user touches their phone 2,167 times a day, while the top 10% of phone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, according to researcher Dscout.
The consequences of checking our phones too much are everything from repetitive strain injury (RSI), poor posture and eyesight problems to insomnia, depression and even the possibility of death. One in four traffic accidents are caused by people using their phones while driving, but that’s just one of the many ways in which your phone could be the death of you.
So what’s the answer? Do businesses just encourage employees to switch off and hope they stick to it? Or do we offer benefits so they detox on their holidays and encourage time away from their desks like hiking holidays or last-minute cruises to establish good habits?
Digital detox holidays are becoming ever more popular, but should we be leaping on board this trend? We explore if and why taking time away from the internet could increase your work performance.
The consequences of checking our phones too much are everything from repetitive strain injury (RSI), poor posture and eyesight problems to insomnia, depression and even the possibility of death.
Leading sleep evangelist, Arianna Huffington says, ‘Burnout is becoming far too common as people are taking better care of their phones than they do of themselves.’
She addresses the “crisis of stress and burnout” in much of here recent work.
“Wherever you look, you see people who are running on empty,” said Huffington.
“We are all living under this collective delusion that in order to succeed we have to burn out,” she said
Huffington said she collapsed from burnout in 2007 and after lying in her own pool of blood, she began to question how overworking and stress had overtaken her life.
“Is this what success looks like?” Huffington recalls her thoughts moments after she awoke from collapsing.
“I got so used to running on empty that I thought this was the new normal,” she said.
Huffington said she has since changed her ways by giving herself at least seven to eight hours’ sleep every night and not answering emails late at night.
“You need to declare the day is done, this is my time to refuel,” she said.
“Why do you think we have some of the best ideas in the shower? Because we’re not connected to what’s incoming,” Huffington added.
Workplace Stress Causes More Sick Days
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, employee stress in the UK accounts for 50-60% of lost working days. Those are just the days we actually take off work, too. We’re all familiar with sleepless nights lost to stressed thoughts running through our brains, being tired and not fully functional at work the next day, or drinking so much coffee to focus that we have a caffeine crash and a migraine mid-afternoon.
Huffington’s new startup Thrive Global, seeks to end the “collective delusion that burnout is a necessary price for success”. Thrive Global provides training, seminars, e-courses, coaching and ongoing support based on the latest scientific findings from experts in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, productivity, sports and sleep.
“The science is in; the science is unequivocal. The science is clear: human beings need time to recharge.
“Human beings are not like machines. Downtime is a feature. Taking time for a digital detox is essential,” said Huffington.
Huffington founded online news aggregator and blog Huffington Post in 2005.
Similarly, when social media pioneer Randi Zuckerberg realised one of her son’s friends believed their grandfather lived inside a laptop computer, she knew the modern world had a problem.
Then she noticed a six-month-old baby was pretending to text on a television remote control. Now Ms Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Zuckerberg Media and original market development director of Facebook, is an advocate of “digital detox”.
Technology has become just too pervasive, she believes. It is time for a rebalance.
Ms Zuckerberg says she is also opposed to anonymity on the internet and believed the “shared economy” and safety of online communication relied on people identifying themselves and acting ethically as a result.
She said observations such as the laptop grandfather (based on a Skype-based relationship) and the texting baby had sparked a movement around “unplugging”, setting boundaries and spending more time offline.
“I think our society really needs a digital detox,” Ms Zuckerberg said. “We’ve become so plugged in that the pendulum is switching back and we’re starting to think about how to reset batteries, how do we reclaim time.”
Zuckerberg rightly suggests the days of having a separate personal and professional persona were over. “Because of social media you don’t have that luxury any more. You have one 360-degree identity.
“The next generation of business leaders will all have drinking and partying photos from online. You just have to understand that about the world we live in now and be a little bit more flexible and forgiving … in the workforce.”
She said the workplace had entered the era of the “entreployee”, where even those working for big companies had to act as start-up entrepreneurs to keep up.
Young people in the US now averaged seven jobs by the time they were in their 30s. “At the end of the day, all technologies are either just hardware or software,” she said. “They are not good or bad, it’s how we use them.”
What is your workplace doing to address technology overload?