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How employers can combat tech addiction

By Michael Serbinis


While the science of tech addiction is still up for debate, there’s no doubt the obsession with screens is real.

Most users can barely survive 12 minutes without checking their smartphones, and devices have become the glue that holds our lives together – so much so that companies are releasing new features aimed at reversing the problem they caused.

These digital products are meticulously engineered to steal your attention and keep you coming back for more. This also extends to the workplace as technology becomes more ingrained in everyday tasks, creating an expectation that we are always connected to the office. The result of this “always-on” mentality is counterproductive – not only is it bad for employee wellbeing, but employees experiencing burnout are also less productive.

As workplaces continue to embrace technology, employers have a responsibility to combat tech addiction and empower their employees to disconnect. While there’s no singular approach, there are some steps employers can take to combat tech addiction in the workplace.


Corporate wellness programs

Incorporating formal wellness programs allows an organization to demonstrate that they’re serious about encouraging employees to disconnect. Corporate wellness programs are not one size fits all – the best are designed to align with specific employee needs and company resources – though all should be accessible at a regular cadence. For example, one organization might offer onsite 10-minute massage services three days a week where employees are encouraged to step away from their computers and take a short break to realign mentally. Another organization might offer weekly visits with an on-site counselor or scheduled time for group runs.

Corporate programs help instill a culture where employees don’t feel guilty about stepping away from their computers for a few minutes. Going a step further and sponsoring group activities that help employees detach from their screens can encourage them to take breaks more often and limit their tech usage.


Tech combating tech

Technology has many benefits both in and out of the workplace but, as it becomes more pervasive, criticism continues to mount. According to an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association survey, 82 per cent don’t think the tech industry is doing enough to educate the public about responsible technology usage.

Leading tech companies are responding by developing digital tools to help users disconnect. Apple recently announced “digital wellness” at its Worldwide Developers Conference, whereas Google introduced its “Shush” and “Wind Down” features. Shush allows users to activate “Do Not Disturb” mode automatically by turning their phone screen-down on a flat surface, while Wind Down reduces the addictive glow of the phone by fading to grayscale during a set time. Instagram also added a dashboard feature to show users how much time they’ve spent on the app and how to best manage their time. In addition to providing possible solutions, these companies are raising awareness and also taking some accountability for their role in creating these problems.

The examples above show that tech can act as a facilitator and enabler for employees and consumers to act on health goals and help enhance their health and wellness journey. Employers play a key role in offering digital wellness tools that encourage users to track health goals and obtain key data to better understand their behaviours and work toward improving their wellness. Workplace technology can also be used to schedule breaks for walks or book appointments for onsite wellness initiatives to reinforce healthy habits.


Implementing a top-down approach

Building a health-focused workplace culture starts from the top, but regarding it as important doesn’t necessarily translate to action. A recent Deloitte survey found 80 per cent of executives rated employee experience as important, yet only 22 per cent reported they were doing an “excellent job” executing on that. Organizations must implement a strategy with clear tactics followed by all employees (even and especially the C-suite) to enact meaningful culture shifts.

Workers are tethered to their devices, but they need to feel empowered to step away from their computers and take a break from work. It’s imperative that managers lead by example – whether by verbally encouraging direct reports to take technology breaks or taking action by going on short walks. Employers should also set clear expectations regarding the use of email and other communication tools after working hours. Setting clear boundaries around when employees are and are not expected to be available and connected can help them disconnect fully at appropriate times.

Combating tech addiction is difficult given how tech is a pervasive part of every aspect of society and is designed to be addictive. Factoring in the reliance of tech in the workplace, there’s little opportunity to fully detach as people are connected to their devices both in and outside of the workplace. It’s impossible to fully escape technology’s grip, but employers can play a key part in setting up a culture and taking concrete steps to empower their employees to disconnect.

Michael Serbinis is the founder and CEO of League.



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