Digital wellbeing: An essential component of business success

By Stephanie Henson, above, founder of techtimeout

A heightened focus on employee wellbeing has been vital during the past few crises-filled years for UK businesses. As part of that, more and more companies have been realising the importance of digital wellbeing. As business owners continue to navigate the choppy waters left behind by the storms of Covid, the ‘Great Resignation’, and the cost of living crisis, it would be easy to become distracted and begin thinking less and less about this issue of employee wellbeing.

But to do that is to completely overlook how integral healthy staff are to pushing your business forward and upwards, and to achieving success despite the turbulence we’ve all been facing.

Because wellbeing isn’t simply something companies do to reward their staff, strategies aren’t something which should be introduced only if there’s some spare money floating around in your budget. Taking care of your employees top to toe (so we’re talking here about physical, mental, financial and digital wellbeing) is a business-savvy decision which has been proven to have a positive impact when it comes to everything from productivity to staff retention.

Around a quarter of companies say, for example, that their existing strategies have improved productivity (27%), staff retention (24%) and sickness rates (25%). The very best strategies are naturally those which look at each staff member holistically – as an entire person whose health depends on a myriad of factors ranging from working conditions to posture to hydration to sleep quality.

And that’s exactly why digital wellbeing is a crucial component of every SME’s wellbeing strategy in 2023. This is about much more than cutting down on screen time: it’s about work/life divide and balance, it’s about expectations and company culture, it’s about stress and burnout, it’s about productivity, and it’s about using technology to empower not bombard your teams.

The business case

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The risks associated with overlooking digital wellbeing are plentiful – a poor relationship with technology has repercussions for our emotional health (attention-deficit symptoms, social isolation), mental health (increased risk of depression), and physical health (reduced sleep, neck pain, and headaches).

Burnout is becoming more common, and overuse and overreliance on tech are cited often as contributory factors; for example, three fifths of managers say technology makes it difficult for them to switch off from work, and the ‘anticipatory stress’ surrounding the expectation of always being on line has been found to cause exhaustion – more so than the actual act of responding to out-of-hours work queries.

Conversely, improving relationships with technology among your workforce has positive implications: such as a reduction in absenteeism and presenteeism (which cost UK businesses an eye-watering £92billion a year). There’s the prospect of a wider range of candidates to choose from, given the majority of jobseekers now prioritise company culture over salary.

Plus, a 4% increase in the ‘wellbeing performance’ of a company can decrease employee turnover by 1%.

Making it work

Even companies convinced by the research and theory behind focusing on digital wellbeing may well have practical concerns – after all, the aforementioned crises mean businesses are operating in extremely tough financial times.

But, as with most things in life, this isn’t about simply throwing money at a problem to make it go away. A considered approach to the wellbeing needs of your team, and how managers can show they’re taking digital wellbeing seriously, can see even the smallest of companies able to implement effective policies without needing to spend big money to see a change.

There’s much that can be done, for example, to ensure team members aren’t contacted outside of their usual working hours (unless there’s an emergency, of course). Businesses might like to look to countries such as France for inspiration here – as French workers have a legal ‘right to disconnect’ meaning they cannot be disciplined if they don’t reply to emails out of hours.

Work can also be undertaken with team leaders to ensure they understand digital wellbeing, can recognise signs of a poor relationship with technology among their staff members, limit the number of different online programmes and apps they contact their employees through, and model positive behaviours such as taking proper breaks and holidays.

A digital wellbeing strategy is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s crucial in 2023 that companies are retaining their existing employees by looking after their holistic health needs, including their relationship with technology. In turn, this also gives you a better chance of hiring top candidates when it comes to filling vacant posts. And the increased productivity, engagement and morale associated with effective strategies means a happier workplace and a more successful business. A win for everyone.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024