Digital Detox: Healthy Work Habits | Just Eat for Business
Just Eat for Business’ Digital Detox reveals the impact of excessive screen time and unhealthy habits on office workers.
With the majority of our working days spent in front of screens, sometimes it can be hard to step away and switch off. But how much time are office workers actually taking away from their computer screens during the day? And what impact does this have on work life balance?
As many start the new year with a focus on health and wellbeing, we wanted to ask office workers about their screen time habits to reveal if they’re taking their recommended breaks - whether that’s regular screen breaks or enjoying lunch with their team.
Just Eat for Business’ Digital Detox study surveyed over 200 office workers, across different job roles, to reveal their screen break habits, how they utilise out of office communication, and how they feel at work.
Screen Break Habits
Despite there being no legal guidance on screen breaks, UK law does say employers must plan possible breaks into working days where computer screens are used.
The survey revealed that this is indeed the case for some workers, as a third (34%) report that they take a screen break once every couple of hours. However, it’s not the same story for everyone, with 7% of office workers not stepping away from their screens at all until the end of the working day.
With work-from-home advice fluctuating over the past year, many of us are spending more time behind our screens than ever - and in fact, over a third (35%) of office workers are skipping more breaks now compared to last year.
Of those now skipping more breaks, business owners and those in C-suite roles report to be most likely (43.6%) to skip more breaks, while 10.6% of workers in similar roles don’t take a break at all.
Dr Anneli Gascoyne, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths University, weighs in on the impact of skipping breaks:
‘When we’re feeling behind on work, or perhaps the workload pile seems endless, there can be a strong temptation not to take a break. And, yes, sometimes we find ourselves in flow, that sweet spot where we’re getting work done and doing it well, and it can be counterproductive to take a break in the middle of that flow, just because it happens to be the prescribed ‘lunch hour’.
“But trying to maintain focus for long periods of time is also counterproductive: over time, we’re depleting our mental energy and often don’t notice that happening. By skipping lunch we’re potentially making that situation worse – we need food (preferably the fresh and healthy kind!) to help restore our energy.”
While taking breaks throughout the working day is clearly important for productivity and wellbeing, the survey also looked to uncover what workers’ habits look like outside of office hours.
The survey found that 70% of workers have access to their work files or platforms, such as Slack and Teams, on their personal devices - meaning they can access them outside of office hours.
And when it comes to engaging with work outside of regular hours, 1 in 5 workers report that they check their work notifications every hour on an evening or while on annual leave.
Given those results, it’s not surprising then that 27% of workers often struggle to switch off from work in the evenings or when on annual leave.
For some, the working day even extends beyond its regular 9-5 hours, with 1 in 5 workers putting in overtime every single day of the week. Of those, business owners proved to be the most likely (38%) to stay at their desks, followed by executives (19%) and managers (18%).
Professor Brad McKenna (University of East Anglia) and Professor Wenjie Cai (University of Greenwich), encourage employers and employees to establish boundaries when it comes to work:
“Emails outside of work hours should be discouraged to set a clear boundary between working hours and home life. For example, emails sent outside of working hours could be scheduled to be sent during working hours. France has been doing this for a while, and more recently Portugal.
“If someone is working flexible hours outside of regular working hours their email signature could say something like “there is no expectation to reply outside of regular working hours.”
Impact on Mental Health
The impact of overworking can cause many of us to experience burnout, which the World Health Organisation has named an ‘occupational phenomenon’.
Burnout is described as ‘a state of physical and mental exhaustion which can occur when one experiences chronic workplace stress’.
The survey revealed that over two fifths (43%) of workers report sometimes feeling burnt out at work, while 13% feel in a constant state of burn out.
When segmented into job roles of those who sometimes or often experience burn out, managers accounted for the highest proportion (63%), followed by business owners (52%) and executives (42%).
The results from the survey also reveal the correlation between screen use and poor mental health. 73% of those who reported feeling burnt out at work don’t take a screen break until lunch, while 46% don’t step away from their screen until the end of the working day.
Dr Anneli Gascoyne speaks about the impact of not taking a break from our screens, both at work and home:
‘When we’re focusing our attention on our screens, we’re using physical and psychological resources (including energy, motivation and concentration) even if we don’t realise it. Like batteries, these resources aren’t in limitless supply, and need to be recharged.
“Yet, we often find ourselves taking breaks from our computer screens by scrolling on another screen, via our phones, and then in the evening we take a break from our phones by watching telly (or perhaps attempting both at the same time!)
“These aren’t the restorative activities we might think they are. They might feel pretty mindless, but they’re still hooking our attention. And we then find that, when we put our head on the pillow at night, all the concerns and ideas of the day start to flood into our awareness, when we should be sleeping.”
To reduce screen time and create healthier habits, Professor Brad McKenna and Professor Wenjie Cai recommend:
“For your phone you can put it in “do not disturb” mode and if you need to concentrate you could let people know that you won’t be replying for a certain amount of time. You could turn off notifications or lock the phone away somewhere, for example, in a cupboard or drawer.
“Laptops are a bit harder because they may be used as a work tool, but you could also schedule times away from the screen. For example, instead of reading a document on the screen you could print it and read it that way or do some brainstorming on a whiteboard instead of on the screen.
“We should encourage our co-workers and partners to join these activities too and help to motivate each other, for example, have dedicated times when everyone takes a screen break together.”
Sometimes it’s hard to take a break, especially when work’s really busy. However, it’s evident from that survey that the impact of overworking and excessive screen time can be counterproductive, and sometimes even dangerous to our mental health.
At Just Eat for Business, we encourage organisations to provide a way for their teams to step away from their screens and enjoy a restorative break by arranging an office lunch. So, whether you’re at executive or C-suite level, why not carve out some time to spend with your colleagues, and order some catering to compliment a screen-free break?
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