July 15, 2019
Jenny is fast becoming a tech addict. She checks emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram at all hours of the day and night, seeking that hit of dopamine that technology delivers that keeps her coming back for more. But the constant checking is having the opposite effect — she’s anxious, depressed, sleepless and feeling disconnected from family and friends.

Jenny’s not alone. A 2017 U.K. study found that 34 per cent of people had checked Facebook in the previous 10 minutes. According to a U.S. study, 80 per cent of smartphone users say that checking their phone is the first thing they do in the morning.

Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant, Krista Schmid say, “While tech addictions like Jenny’s may start at home, they can be fuelled by workplaces that insist, implicitly or explicitly, that employees be ‘always on’ and available, even after the workday is over. A constant barrage of work emails and texts can leave people feeling overwhelmed, hindering productivity, focus, health and mental well-being, all of which will have negative repercussions for the workplace.”

Businesses and employees can take actions to help employees develop a more balanced approach to technology at work and at home, says Krista, citing three examples from the auto sector:
  • Volkswagen shuts down some employees’ work emails when they are off shift.
  • Daimler offers employees the option of having incoming emails automatically deleted while on holiday. The system notifies the sender that the email will be deleted. This also frees returning employees from the stress of a packed inbox.
  • For safety reasons, General Motors has banned the use of smartphones at work while the person is walking.

What workplaces can do

Schmid offers workplaces the following strategies to help employees develop new habits around tech use. The benefits: more productive and mentally healthier employees.
  • Ensure your company culture establishes and communicates healthy tech policies. Consider implementing a no texts or emails after closing time policy or utilize delay delivery options when sending emails. Set clear expectations for email response times. Don’t expect employees to be always on. Reward productivity rather than availability. Managers, supervisors and executives need to follow these policies to a good example.
  • Encourage employees to eliminate distractions by turning off push notifications on all their devices and unplugging from all devices for part of the workday.

What employees can do

Employees can also take steps towards healthy tech use in their work and personal lives.
  • Stay connected to co-workers in real time: send voice messages or make phone calls instead of texts or emails.
  • If using devices for work, shut them off at the end of the workday.
  • Never use devices before bedtime. They hamper a person’s ability to have a restful sleep.
  • Download apps and extensions that help cut back on distractions and usage. Some can block intrusive apps and filter communications; others let users set daily limits for device use.

WSPS mental health consultants can help create a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. Resources are online at wsps.ca or by calling an on-duty consultant at 1-877-494-WSPS (9777). For more ideas and solutions, visit ThinkMentalHealth.ca.