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How to Combat Digital Presenteeism & Burnout

career advice leadership Aug 07, 2022
black woman tired in front of computer

In recent years, digital presenteeism has become a growing concern. The term refers to the expectation that employees are always available and responsive to digital communications, even outside regular work hours. This can be highly demanding and stressful for employees, leading to burnout and reduced productivity. The percentage of reduced productivity among digital presentees is as high as 47%.

There are several reasons why employers may demand digital presenteeism from their employees. In some cases, it may simply be due to the nature of the work. In other cases, it may be because employers want more control over their employees and monitor their work more closely. On average, workers said they spend an additional 67 minutes each day (on top of their regular working hours) making sure they are visibly online at work, equivalent to more than 5.5 hours each week. Whatever the reason, digital presenteeism can harm employee well-being and satisfaction.

As such, employers should carefully consider whether the benefits of digital presenteeism are worth the risks before requiring employees to demonstrate their presence at work. Unfortunately, the nature of remote work has caused many employees and leaders to feel a need to stay on and connected to their computers to prove their effectiveness. This means employers will have to do a better job at discouraging the practice.

Whether working on actual projects or checking emails, or getting distracted by social media, video games, or shopping online, we now have a culture of digital dependency that fuels digital presenteeism.

If you're struggling with digital presenteeism, you can do a few things to get back on track.

Learn the signs of digital presenteeism

With an increased expectation to be available online at all hours, many find it difficult to disconnect from work. This can lead to several problems, including increased stress levels, sleep deprivation, and difficulty concentrating, leading to fatigue and decreased productivity. The signs of digital presenteeism can be subtle, but they can significantly impact productivity and morale. If you notice that you or your employees are struggling to disconnect from work, it may be time to implement changes to help them achieve a better work-life balance.

If you avoid the signs of digital presenteeism, there are several negative consequences for employees and businesses. Employees constantly connected to work are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and burnout. They may also have difficulty sleeping, leading to fatigue and decreased productivity. In addition, digital presenteeism can lead to errors and mistakes, as employees are more likely to make careless mistakes when they're tired or distracted. Digital presenteeism can also create a feeling of disconnection between leaders and their teams, as communication is often strained when conducted through digital channels. However, instead of finding ways to develop connections offline, employers often make the mistake of forcing more online contact in the name of team building or relationship building.

 

Understand the potential causes of digital presenteeism

The causes of digital presenteeism vary but can generally be grouped into work demands, personal preferences, and technology addiction.

Work demands are often the most significant drivers of digital presenteeism. In our constantly connected world, many employers expect employees to be available 24/7, regardless of location. This can lead to employees feeling that they need to be accessible at all times, even if they are physically present in the workplace.

Personal preferences can also play a role in digital presenteeism. For example, some people prefer to work on digital devices and may feel more productive or efficient. Others may use digital devices to stay connected with friends and family or take care of personal business during breaks or lunch.

Technology addiction is another possible cause of digital presenteeism. As digital devices become more commonplace and sophisticated, it is increasingly easy to become addicted to them. In addition, for some people, being unable to disconnect from technology can lead to anxiety and depression, leading to excessive use of digital devices in the workplace.

 

How does digital presenteeism impact women?

 One of the most notable impacts of digital presenteeism is on women. In general, digital presenteeism tends to impact women for a variety of reasons disproportionately.

 The constant pressure to be available and the fear of missing out on important information can lead to anxiety and stress. In addition, digital presenteeism has been linked to increased depressive symptoms among women and burnout, as women work longer and harder hours with little respite. Also, the competing demands of family often find women juggling a demanding workload with family responsibilities. 

Finally, digital presenteeism can also lead to a feeling of isolation, as women find themselves foregoing social activities and face-to-face interactions in favor of working. This can be damaging to both personal and professional relationships. Ultimately, digital presenteeism is an even more significant problem for women workers, and steps should be taken to mitigate its impact.

 

What are ways to prevent digital presenteeism?

There are several ways to prevent digital presenteeism from happening in the first place.

  • First, managers should clarify that employees are not expected to be available 24/7. This can be done by setting reasonable expectations for response times to emails and phone calls and limiting after-hours work.
  • Second, employees should be encouraged to take breaks during the workday while working remotely, including their lunch breaks, and to use their vacation days. This will help them to recharge and avoid burnout. Also, employers can promote a healthy work-life balance by discouraging after-hours work emails and calls. As an employee, you want to be aware of the signs so you can also set boundaries between work and home life and take time off when needed.
  • Third, digital presenteeism should not be rewarded; instead, employees who take breaks and disconnect from their devices should be praised. This will help create a culture where digital presenteeism is not the norm. Finally, develop policies that discourage employees from working excessively and limit digital distractions during work hours.
  • Finally, employers should consider investing in digital detox programs or other initiatives to help employees disconnect from their devices and focus on their work. Employees should be given the tools to manage their time effectively and stay connected while working remotely. This includes flexible work options, access to collaboration tools, project management software, and time tracking software. By providing employees with the right tools, you can help them to avoid digital presenteeism while still being productive. 

 

What can you do personally to manage digital presenteeism?

It's becoming more and more commonplace for our work lives to bleed into our personal lives thanks to technology. We need to accept that. And while being constantly connected has its advantages, it can also be detrimental to our health and well-being if we're not careful. If you find that you can't stop working, even when you're supposed to be taking a break, there are a few things you can do

 First, be more mindful of how often you're on your digital devices, checking your work-related emails and other notifications outside regular work hours.

Second, create boundaries with your technology. Set limits on how often you check work-related emails and other notifications outside regular work hours. If possible, designate specific times during the day when you'll respond to emails and stick to those limits. Do the same for social media, video gaming, or online shopping. Set a timer and get on and off so you can spend more time in the real world.

Third, I've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again...TAKE TIME OFF. Try to take at least one day off weekly where you completely disconnect from work AND your digital devices. This can be difficult if you're used to being available 24/7, but giving your mind and body a chance to relax and rejuvenate is essential.

 Lastly, make sure to take a vacation, meaning leave an out-of-office message, don't check in, and leave your laptop at home if possible. Too often, workers forget about their vacation time or feel guilty about taking time off, or worse, they take a vacation and work the entire time. Breaks are essential for recharging our batteries and returning to life and your work refreshed and ready to go.

 

Conclusion

Digital presenteeism is a real problem that can negatively affect employees and employers. However, there are several ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Managers should set reasonable expectations for response times to emails and phone calls, employees should be encouraged to take breaks during the workday, and digital distractions should not be rewarded. Employers should invest in digital detox programs or initiatives to help employees disconnect from their devices and focus on their work. Finally, employees should be given the tools needed to manage their time effectively and stay connected while working remotely. By following these tips, you can avoid the harmful effects of digital presenteeism.

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