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Policies to Quash Digital Burnout in the Workplace

27th Nov 2017
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Digital Management Strategies Essential to Work-life Balance

Coping with the stress of the modern workplace can be overwhelming. Nearly 60% of employees report feeling overwhelmed at least once a week. Their concerns have mounted in recent years, with the proliferation of digital technology playing a major role in exacerbating this.

Most experts agree the problems stem largely from an inability to find a work-life balance. Although the blame is solely placed on long-work hours alone, other factors play an equal or even greater role.

Many people struggle to detach from digital technology, which has contributed to this epidemic. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 50% of employees using email outside of work report feeling excessively stressed, compared to only 36% of those that did not.

Industrial psychologists have made similar observations. They have warned that employers need to begin implementing digital management strategies to minimize stress levels. Dr. Petros Chamakiotis, Lecturer in Information Systems at the University of Sussex, is one of the experts that discussed these findings.

“We have seen in our research that certain individuals — for example social entrepreneurs as well as those with line management responsibility — experience an urge to go online after hours in their effort to, for example, stay up to date with developments at work. For them, the online environment is a place in which they can engage in both personal and work-related activities. However, some of our participants felt getting ‘sucked in’ and highlighted an emergent need to disconnect, which they did by taking some time away from their electronic devices, oftentimes by taking a walk in the park or by engaging in a social activity with others (e.g. going to the theatre).”

While these findings have started receiving significant attention, few employees are heeding the underlying message. They either feel pressured by their employer to engage after hours or are determined to show that they are going the extra mile to exceed employer expectations. The problem is two-fold:

  • Negative news can disrupt their evenings, take their attention away from their families and interfere with sleep.
  • They may feel pressured to respond, which consumes cognitive energy they should be replenishing during their downtime.

If employers intend to keep employees from experiencing burnout, they must do their part to discourage using digital devices after hours. Key elements of a digital management strategy can include one or more of the following:

  • Prohibit managers from reaching out to their employees after hours, except for emergencies. Emergency emails should be marked as urgent.
  • Tell employees that they aren’t expected to answer emails outside of regular work hours, unless they were notified beforehand to look for an urgent email that may come after hours.
  • Managers can be encouraged to schedule emails they send in the evening to be delivered during regular work hours. This allows managers to email employees while important ideas are still fresh in their minds without pressuring employees to respond in the evening. Boomerang and other free email plugins offer this convenience.
  • Ask employees to turn off their phones when they aren’t needed during work hours. Research has shown that when employees need to turn them off after they ring, it disrupts their mindset and leads to more errors. They are forced to backtrack later and often stay later to fix those problems.
  • Discourage social loafing, because it can force employees to put in extra time later to make up for the time they lost. Many employees procrastinate by spending too much time on social media. They end up needing to work later in the evening after discovering that they fell too far behind on their assignments.
  • Make sure technology is utilized for efficiency. While this advice seems apparent at face value, too many employers use tools to create unnecessarily sophisticated workflows, which cause more confusion and exhaust time. Technology must be used for optimal efficiency.

A digital management strategy may seem excessive, but can make a tremendous difference with work-life balance.

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