What is Digital Stress?

In the world of Workplace Health & Wellness, we see a lot of new terminology cropping up all the time, and also a lot of references to issues or concerns in the workplace that not everyone may be familiar with.

At Quokka Wellness, we are focussed very much on an area that, even if you haven’t heard of it before, you are sure to have experienced it at some stage in this digital age.

This article will clarify exactly what “digital stress” is, what are digital stressors, and some tips that can help you – or your employees or colleagues – to address it.

Digital Stress – Definition

Put simply, digital stress is caused by negative interactions with digital technologies such as emails, texts, social media, smart phones, technical applications etc.

In reality, and specifically in the workplace, it can be much more far-reaching. It can be caused by issues such as communication load or overload, application multitasking, reactive processes or software that is poorly designed from a UX perspective (for example, software that requires continuous input or activity without any natural breaks for the human using it).

Digital Stress – Stressors

As we have alluded to above, there are a number of causes of digital stress. Our digital world enables what we call an “always-on” culture, so that we are accessible at all times, and in turn we have access to people and technologies that we can use for work at any time.

And while technology is not “bad” in and of itself, it is our behaviours and habits, and those expected of us from an organisational level, that can cause us stress.

Example

A good example is worth a hundred definitions and explanations. Here, we will look at the example of an employee of a technology company.

Matt works for GoGetEm Software. Matt spends 90%+ of his working day at a computer. He manages a project team which is split between his office in the west of Ireland, a satellite office in Dublin and HQ in Seattle. He uses a multitude of online applications for his daily work, has an internal web chat application so he can “ping” colleagues from his laptop and he emails… a lot. He has notifications enabled for all of his applications, and these come through his (also notification-enabled) email. While he has responsibility for project delivery within his team, his direct manager is based in the US and she often has reporting and remote meeting demands that he must meet.

He is mid-thirties with a partner and young family. He owns a Smartphone and often uses it for work. He used to do this occasionally, but now he has his work email on his phone and checks it multiple times in the evening in case he gets emails from the States. 

He has been to the doctor recently with a number of issues. He has suffered with lower back pain since his mid-twenties, after which he stopped his active lifestyle and this has worsened with time. He is slightly overweight but has a high bodyfat percentage (he was always naturally slim). Since his management line changed to where his direct manager is in the US, he has been feeling significantly more stressed and feels he has more demands in work but has less control.

He regularly comes home from the office feeling like he has done a week’s work, but struggles to have something to show for it. This adds to his stress, causing him to be online more at home playing “catch-up”. He feels guilty that he is not spending enough time with his family, and struggles to sleep, especially days when he has been working late on his laptop.

I’m sure we all know a Matt, and his story might even resonate directly with you as it resembles your own work situation. There’s a lot going on here, and it is clear that Matt is on a trajectory that will lead him to ill health – mentally, physically and physiologically.

So what can he do?

Tips to manage Digital Stress

Here are some tips that can help if you are feeling digitally stressed, based on Matt’s example above:

  1. Understand your stressors

For some people, being online later in the evening is not an issue. They may in fact appreciate the ability to work on admin in the evening as they spend a lot of their day on the road or in meetings. However, for some this type of behaviour is having a very negative impact. Start by looking at your behaviours and see what makes you feel anxious or stressed. Make a list of the activities, and the times of day they occur. This will give you a clear overview of what you need to address

  • Set your boundaries

In Matt’s case, he made a decision to start checking his emails in the evenings, so that now his colleagues may expect him to be available at times outside of his working hours. Whether or not this was intentional, in Matt’s case it is something that he needs to address as it is causing him (and his family) strain. Understand what your boundaries are. Are you ok with email outside of working hours? Or phone calls? Is your manager putting expectations on you that you are not comfortable with? You may have to have some difficult conversations here, but tackling it now will prevent issues later.

  • Manage your notifications

In Matt’s example above, we get the feeling that he was following a “reactive” process to managing his workload. The notifications from his email and his applications were dictating what work he did, and when. Take a look at the notifications you have enabled for your work (and social) applications and see what you can change. Can you change always-on notifications to summary notifications once per day? Can you use the “Busy” option on your Instant Messaging software more regularly? See what options you have to enable you to work more proactively rather than responding to notifications.

  • Work offline to excel online

Linked to the point above, when we are always online in a digital way, we often work reactively. How many days have you had a to-do list that you never even started because you were responding to emails and requests in a reactive way? Try to plan your work so that you are offline (this can be on your laptop or computer of course, but you have all notifications switched off). You will get more done, and your focus will improve considerably.

  • Digital Detox

Although I am not a big fan of the term Digital Detox (I prefer Digital Offloading), Deloitte recently published an article that included a digital detox that all employees could look at an implement over a 7-day week. It is simple and doesn’t take up too much time, and it is also something you could do with your colleagues, friends or family to add a challenge to it.  Check it out at the bottom of the article here: https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/behavioral-economics/negative-impact-technology-business.html

I hope this article gives you some insight to the phenomenon of Digital Stress, and if you know someone like Matt perhaps you can share it with them. I’m sure they will thank you.

About the Author:Carrie is the Head Quokka at Quokka Wellness, a Workplace Wellness provider focussed on managing digital stress in the workplace.

Based in Galway? Then book tickets for our Digital Wellbeing Workshop on October 17th at the Connacht Hotel, where you will learn the tools & skills needed to manage your digital environment.

Check the Services section of the website for details of training programs: https://quokkawellness.com/services/