What is digital fatigue? And how does it impact your business and the people who work there?
Think of how many times you interact with technology each day, whether that interaction was intentional or not. Technology is ingrained in our lives, both personally and professionally. But you don't need me to tell you that. You also don't need me to point out that it brings stressors and pain despite the simplicity and positivity it brings to our lives.
One of those stressors and pains is digital fatigue.
Just as many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue, digital fatigue is very real. For many, the multiple systems we all interact with during a day's work only exacerbate the situation.
Surrounded by Screens
In the past decade, technology has transformed our personal and professional lives in many dramatic ways. The apps and technologies we have access to have generally made our lives much more comfortable and productive. This includes but is not limited to how we communicate, consume and process information and how we innovate. Technology has also transformed how to learn new skills, buy and sell, work and stay healthy.
But not all that glitters is gold. Or, in this case, not all that pings is good.
In our work environments alone, we have surrounded ourselves with screens that continuously push a stream of messages that demand our focus and attention. Emails, social networking, communication apps, kanban boards, video conferencing tools – the list goes on and on. Not to mention what you use across the entire employee life cycle from pre-hire to retirement.
Even when we step away from the large screens, we carry one or more small screens with us in our pockets or purses. When not at work, we are already conditioned to constantly interact digitally. This tendency for accessing our new technology sidekicks has resulted in many of us suffering from an illness called digital fatigue syndrome.
So, what is digital fatigue?
While a relatively new term, the label gives us a very clear indication of what digital fatigue is.
Vogue recently quoted a holistic wellness practitioner as saying: "If you find yourself with sore, strained eyes, more headaches than usual, and you're suffering from poor posture or increased neck and shoulder pain, chances are you might be suffering from digital fatigue."
Let's face it; we don't need this list of symptoms to tell us when too much time spent in front of a screen is making us tired. Beyond making us physically exhausted, it's taking a toll on our well-being.
Thankfully, Vogue also added a little more science to the definition. It said, "Sleep deprivation is a key factor in digital fatigue since an excess of screen time (and a lack of much else) can suppress the 'sleep' hormone melatonin, disrupting our circadian rhythms (or sleep patterns), and reducing REM sleep. All of this adds up to make us much less alert come morning. Much of it is to do with the blue (or high energy visible) light that is emitted by screens - from phone to laptop to television - which affects how our cells react, inhibiting how much melatonin they produce."
The Pandemic's Impact on Digital Fatigue
The pandemic has not helped. In the past year, we have all spent more time than we are used to on our technology devices and digitally communicating with the world. According to a Salesforce article, 42% of the U.S. labor force continues to work from home full time, and we have heavily increased our reliance on our devices to keep us working, connected, and entertained. In fact, the average time spent with digital media is moving toward 7.5 hours per day.
Believe it or not, even millennials - the digital-natives and technology-trailblazing multi-taskers say that they are - are burned out! In a recent HBR article, one of these self-identified millennials says, "My generation - the millennial generation - have proven to be great candidates for this terrible phenomenon (burnout). The pandemic isn't helping. Without clear boundaries between the office and our homes, more work is always available, and only a hand's reach away."
Tidying Up Your Tech Stack
So, you might be asking, what is the solution? We cannot simply eliminate screens or technology from our lives, so are we all doomed?
While we cannot remove this "necessary evil" from our lives, we can streamline it.
Combining technology into fewer platforms and channels for your employees will make their lives much easier. It will also make technology less of a disruption and focus blocker - and more of an aid (as it is intended to be).
Take inventory of the different platforms you are using. Is there any overlap? Any ability to combine forces or bring things under "one roof," so to speak? Chances are, there are some areas where you can consolidate. For example, perhaps you can provide your employees:
- A one-stop-shop where they can take surveys to provide their managers with feedback
- Recognize their peers (or get a much-deserved shoutout themselves)
- Access learning tools along with values and culture reminders
This consolidation would boost engagement and minimize confusion, and you guessed it - digital fatigue.
The good news is that many HR technology solutions can help you with this consolidation effort. The bad news, many HR technology solutions can help you with this consolidation effort. In other words, you may need to spend some time comparing and contrasting options to find the best fit, but at least you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Keep It Simple
Ironically, this brings us back to where we started - technology. Too much of it can lead to burnout, but just the right amount can make our lives a lot easier.
The bottom line is that HR leaders must minimize the distraction of too many technologies It is costing your organization and is increasing the rate of burnout. But as we are all well aware, screens are here to stay, so let's streamline and simplify.
Consider these wise words from the German-British statistician Ernst F. Schumacher:
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."
Authors Note: A version of this article originally appeared in TalentCulture. Click here to read it in its entirety.