A recent report, The digital health dilemma: Is technology keeping workers healthy or making them ill? has been published by international health benefits provider, Aetna International reveals that 3 in 4 office workers say restricting screen time would benefit their mental and physical health.
The report based on a recent survey of 4,000 employees in the UK, the U.S., Singapore and the UAE, was designed to uncover how modern workplace technology and digital tools have impacted employee well-being the report
The impact of screen time on physical and mental health
The majority of employees feel that sitting at their computer for long durations have hindered their physical health:
- 70% of employees agree that they would exercise more if they spent less time at their PC
- 76% of employees feel that reduced or restricted out of hours technology use would help them manage their physical health better if provided by their employer
Adding to this, the majority of employees from around the world agreed that the overuse of technology in the workplace has had negative effects on their mental health:
- 75% agree that restricting the use of screen time in the office would help them to better manage their mental health
- 56% said that the overuse of communication platforms and internal emails increases their stress levels
High demand for access to digital health solutions
Despite the negative impact of workplace technology on employee wellbeing, many felt that technology could conversely have a beneficial impact on their physical health:
- 77% of employees feel that employer-provided access to convenient online exercise or health appointment options online would help them manage their physical health better
- 69% of employees feel that an employer-provided Smartwatch or Fitness Tracker (e.g. Fitbit) would help them manage their physical health better
Many employees also felt there were several employer-provided tech solutions that could help support their mental health:
- 66% of employees agreed that their employer could help them with their mental health by enabling them to access online mental health appointments and support
- 63% believe that they could better manage their mental health if their employer provided them with mindfulness apps such as Headspace
The pitfalls of mobile phone use outside of office hours
Whilst digital advancements have made working from home an easy adjustment for businesses looking to provide their employees with more flexibility, with it has come the pressure to stay ‘switched on’ during the evenings, weekends and even on vacation. In fact:
- 65% of employees check their phone for work-related messages at the weekend
- 64% even check their phone for work-related messages whilst on vacation
Additionally, the pressure to stay ‘switched on’ forces 64% of employees check their phone for work-related messages before they go to sleep and a further 70% check first thing in the morning, despite 66% of them admit that checking their phone for work-related messages can make them feel stressed.
The survey also revealed that 64% of employees would support a workplace policy to prevent technology overload, helping them to structure their time and limit its use both within and outside of working hours. Despite this, less than half of employers provide such guidance, leaving employees to struggle with balancing their usage.
The health and wellness opportunities afforded by tech
Technology allows individuals to reap the benefits of flexible remote working. For many, working from home offers more opportunity to take better care of their health and well-being:
- 73% of respondents agreed that they are able to find more time to look after their physical health when they work from home
- 77% agree that more opportunities to work from home would help them improve their mental health
- 70% feel less stressed about their work when they work remotely
Despite this, employees in the UK are the least likely to feel the benefits of remote working:
- 32% agree that working from home makes them feel more stressed compared to the 19% regional average
- Just 66% agreed that working from home allows them to find more time to look after their physical health compared to 78% in the UAE
Sam McKendrick, Vice President, Human Resources, Aetna International:
“The link between employee health and well-being and their happiness and productivity is well documented, which is why it’s so important for businesses to look at employee health from a variety of different perspectives. As so many employees feel that restricting screen time would benefit their mental and physical health, it’s clear that employers can do more to address this as part of their overall approach to health and well-being. Solutions can be as simple as implementing policies that help ensure employees take regular breaks away from their computer screens.
“As the study shows that many employees feel there are several ways in which employers could offer digital tech solutions to help them with their mental health, it’s worth organisations exploring this with their own workers. During the pandemic in particular, we have found that providing our own employees with convenient access to virtual or digital mental health support – from digital counselling to self-help apps – has been very well received and has had a very positive impact. As responsible employers, it’s important that we continuously learn from our experiences – both internally and externally – and find ways to positively impact the well-being, health, happiness and productivity of our people.”