Digital mindfulness may assist cut back the impression of technostress within the office

Technology-related stress, overwork, and anxiety are common problems in today's workplace and can potentially lead to more burnout and poorer health. Many of these issues are likely to have increased since remote work became widespread following the pandemic.

In 2022, together with colleagues at the University of Nottingham, I conducted a review of the scientific literature on the disadvantages of working digitally. We looked at nearly 200 studies from the last decade that provided extensive evidence of the negative health effects of technostress and the associated “dark side of the digital workplace.”

Building on this research, our next study, published in 2024, examined whether mindfulness and digital confidence – the ability to apply existing digital skills to new devices, apps and platforms – could help reduce these negative impacts.

We've found that using technology more confidently and mindfully can help protect the health of digital workers.

Mindfulness is a technique for developing non-judgmental awareness of one's feelings, thoughts and surroundings in the present moment.

For some people, learning to observe their thoughts and feelings and tuning into the breath and body as anchors can help them avoid negative habits and reactions. When we become aware of habitual reactions in this way, we can respond more calmly and effectively.

Our latest study adds to findings from decades of workplace mindfulness research that has shown its potential to reduce stress and anxiety in employees and promote better mental health and work engagement.

While our research didn't examine specific mindfulness techniques, our interview participants talked about how mindfulness helped them reduce stress in the digital workplace.

This can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths or stepping away from technology for a short period of time. Participants said it was also really helpful to check in on their mental, emotional and physical state while working digitally.

Those with higher levels of mindfulness tended to be less overwhelmed by technology. They talked about avoiding multitasking online – such as reading emails while on a video call – and setting clear limits on usage, such as only using technology at certain times of the day.

It's worth noting that some workers felt uncomfortable taking the time to unwind and feared being perceived as slacking or falling behind.

Overall, workers who felt more confident using technology had lower levels of anxiety. And those who were more mindful seemed to be better protected from the negative aspects of digital work.

Our results suggest that while digital mindfulness and confidence are both important for employee well-being, mindfulness is ultimately more effective than trust in technology in protecting against technostress.

Change your perception to improve your well-being

In our analysis, based on previous studies, we explore the idea that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety by changing employees' perceptions of digital stressors.

For example, researchers at the University of Turin found in 2019 that higher levels of mindfulness in teachers were associated with more positive stress assessments of workload and lower rates of subsequent burnout.

In our study, we found that digital workers who are more mindful and confident with digital media appear to have a greater sense of agency in their digital work. They were also better equipped to change their digital habits for the better.

These changes included setting boundaries by establishing rules for how and when to engage in the digital workplace. For example, turning off notifications, batching emails, or shutting down devices at the end of the workday.

Some participants also used short mindfulness exercises to regulate their use of technology and pay attention to physical and mental health while working digitally. Beneficial activities included taking a short break from technology, going for a walk, or making a cup of tea.

Reflection is key to healthy digital habits

To help employees thrive during ongoing digital transformation in the workplace, companies should consider ways to support their employees with digital skills and mindful practices. Otherwise, they risk workers suffering further negative impacts.

Conducting this research led our team to reflect on our own digital practices and identify areas for change. For example, set clearer boundaries for reading and responding to emails outside of working hours and take more breaks when working digitally.

We all have the opportunity to expand our own skills in these areas, for example by taking training or educating ourselves to improve our digital skills for work and learn some basic mindfulness practices.

Thinking about what works and what doesn't in your digital workday can be a good starting point for promoting healthy digital work habits.The conversation

Elizabeth Marsh, PhD Candidate, Employee Technostress and the Potential of Mindfulness, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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