The Digital Dilemma

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Technology has permeated every facet of our lives, but what impact is it having on employees and organisations? 

Employees’ digital behaviours are undermining organisational productivity and impairing their physical health and mental wellbeing. 

This causes low employee engagement, setting up behaviours which are hard to break.

Digital Distractions

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Did you know that phones and devices are designed to appeal to our psychological weaknesses? 

Technology cause neurobiological changes in our brains making employees more susceptible to digital distractions and dependance. 

The pings and alerts trick our brains into thinking everything is important and urgent. 

We experience a ‘state of insufficiency’ because there’s always more emails, notifications, calendar reminds pinging and piling up.

We get hits of dopamine as we watch the metrics of unopened Slack/Jira notifications decline as we plough through tasks.

Yet this dopamine hit stops our impulse control centre from working effectively, so we can get stuck doing these ‘light’ tasks instead of carving out time for productive ‘deep’ work.

Technological tools that permeate our workplaces have literally been designed to hijack our attention and to be VERY addictive. 

Yikes! 

Truth Bombs

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3 out of 4

workers say they feel distracted at work1

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every 6 minutes

Is how often the average knowledge worker checks a communication device (RescueTime)2

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40%

of the modern work day is now consumed with multitasking via communication tools3

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21%

of working hours spent on entertainment, news, and social media4

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62%

of all employees, across the age spectrum, admitted to spending around an hour of each work day looking at their phones5

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Knowledge workers

on average, spend just two hours and 48 minutes a day for productive tasks (or 14 hours and 8 minutes a week)6

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2.5 hours

is how long knowledge workers spend in their inbox per day7

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74 times

is on average, how often workers check their email per day

Multitasking Myth

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Technology has permeated every facet of our lives, but what impact is it having on employees and organisations? 

Employees’ digital behaviours are undermining organisational productivity and impairing their physical health and mental wellbeing. 

This causes low employee engagement, setting up behaviours which are hard to break.

The Brain Cannot Multitask

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Multitasking takes approximately 40% longer to complete each task than monotasking9

Multitasking prevents information from being properly encoded by the brain

After a distraction, it takes the average adult 23 minutes and 15 seconds to reorient their attention. This is called the ‘resumption lag’10

Multitasking increases error rates, depletes mental energy and releases a stress hormone in the brain which in turn makes it harder for employees to commit details to memory

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Employees attempt to compensate for distractions by working faster and multitasking. However, this results in higher stress levels and more frustration as well as increased time pressure and effort, which impairs decision-making and performance11

Meaningless Meetings

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With modern technology meetings are now easier to organise than ever before. The ease of implementation and inclusion has resulted in more meetings being conducted and more employees being invited to meetings (it’s so easy to quickly send a calendar invitation- we call this the ‘zero cost of inclusion’). 

This has signficant costs to productivity as meetings erode time available for what professor of computer science Cal Newport refers to as ‘deep work’.

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23 hours

MIT Sloan Management Review revealed that executives spend 23 hours per week in meetings12

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$37 billion

Unnecessary meetings cost US business an estimated $37 billion per year in salariess13

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22%

Employees completed 22% less work before a scheduled meeting than they did when there were no meetings on the horizon. Meeting anticipation hampers output.

Open-plan Offices

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In recent years, digital technologies and the collaboration opportunities they promised have prompted many organisations to reconfigure their office design and adopt open plan layouts. 

However, the predicted productivity and performance gains that were anticipated did not materialise in most cases. Ironically, technological disruptions have been shown to increase in workplaces with open office designs as there is less face-to-face collaboration.

Open Plan = Door to Disruption

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top distractors

Disruptive coworkers (80%) and background office noise (70%) were identified as  top overall distractors in the modern workplace14

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73% less

Open plan offices result in 73% less face-to-face interaction15

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56% increase

Open plan workplace designs result in a 56% increase in email interaction (with employees receiving 20% more emails and were cc’d on 41% more emails)16

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67% increase

In open plan spaces the use of instant messages increases by 67%17

Busyness Culture

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We have a new cultural norm: being busy and always working. 

‘Busyness’ is often worn as a badge of honour. We take advantage of extra work mobility at the cost of natural breaks. Ubiquitous access to technology has certainly fuelled the ‘busyness’ culture that is rampant in many workplaces today. The digital technologies and flexible work arrangements that were supposed to make workplaces more agile and responsive have resulted in employees feeling perpetually busy.

Busy Doing Nothing

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26%

of work is completed outside ‘regular’ working hours18

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40%

of employees use their computers after 10pm19

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53%

of employees work over the weekend20

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52%

 of employees work outside designated work hours21

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54%

of employees work even when sick22

Boredom, or mind-wandering mode as neuroscientists call it, is vital for ideation, creative thinking and problem solving. Yet many employees and executives no longer have this unplugged time.

Compromised Mental Wellbeing

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Our current  24/7 work environment - always connected, always ‘on’ - is contributing to employee overwhelm. The ubiquitous adoption of mobile technologies ensures a growing overlap between employees’ work and personal lives. Coupled with increased use of social media, many employees’ mental health is compromised because of their technology behaviours.

Mental Wellness Check

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no breaks

Many employees no longer have a psychological ‘break’ from work because digital devices now permeate their lives

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blurred boundaries

Boundaries between work and personal lives have become blurred, resulting in work seeping into employees’ personal lives

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workplace stress

A 2014 Deloitte study found that the digitisation of the workplace consumes staff, leaving them feeling stressed and unable to deal with the psycho-social risks that intensive technology brings23

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burnout

In 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed ‘burnout’ as an occupational phenomenon undermining individual work performance and suggested that many employees are suffering from ‘plugged in burnout’

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social comparison

Personal social media habits can also contribute to social comparison. Research has shown a link between social media and depression24

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30 minutes/day

A 2018 study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes/day reported reduced depression and loneliness25

Impaired Physical Health

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Unhealthy digital behaviours are posing significant risks to employees’ physical health. Technology habits are compromising both the quality and quantity of sleep which has direct and substantial costs on employees’ wellbeing and performance. Increased rates of myopia, concerns of noise-induced hearing loss, increased sedentary behaviours and incorrect ergonomics are some of the concerning consequences of digital habits that are impairing employee health.

60%

60% of employees check emails both before and after sleep, according to a 2019 RescueTime report26

20.7%

A 2017 study by Deloitte (Access Economics) and the Sleep Health Foundation revealed that 20.7% of Australians aren’t getting enough sleep27

POOR SLEEP

Poor sleep habits are heavily impacting employee productivity in terms of absenteeism and presenteeism rates28

$26.2 billion

Inadequate sleep carried an estimated total financial cost of $26.2 billion in 2016-1729

$17.9 billion

 Of this amount, $17.9 billion - or $2,418 per person - was due to productivity loss from inadequate sleep

42%

Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness, myopia, in the US has nearly doubled, reaching 42% of adults. Unhealthy visual ergonomics may be a contributing factor

50%

50% of Australian workers have jobs that involve sitting often or all of the time30

increased risk

Sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity pose significant negative health outcomes including the risk of Type 2 diabetes, increased risk of certain cancers and certain cardiovascular diseases and is associated with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression

1.1 billion

The World Health Organisation estimates more than 1.1 billion people are in danger of noise-induced hearing loss from portable audio devices, including smartphones as they can exceed the 85dB recommended limit31

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And if we haven’t met yet...

Dr Kristy Goodwin is one of Australia’s leading digital health, wellbeing and productivity experts. She is regularly called upon by national media outlets for her opinion and invited to speak to a diverse range of organisations and businesses (both big and small) around the country. Dr Kristy is a confident, compelling and highly relatable presenter who provides practical and realistic solutions to deal with digital dilemmas in your workplace.

Want to know how Kristy can help your employees thrive in the digital world? Kristy is a speaker and consultant working with both big and small organisations to help their staff with digital wellbeing and productivity strategies.

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Dr Kristy has worked with some of the biggest corporations in Australia:

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References

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