When our screens are our offices, separation of work & life is virtually impossible.
Over the past few years, many of us have made a commitment to a higher level of work/life balance. At Joy Society, we prefer to call it “work/life harmony,” but however you put it, harmony and balance require some level of separation between our personal and work lives.
Maybe you’ve tried setting boundaries with your boss and your coworkers, or creating a home office that is more separate from your daily life. But when our offices are our devices, it’s difficult to feel like we’ve ever really left the job at the end of the day. Even if you don’t work from home, chances are that most of your workday is spent looking at a screen. You may physically leave your office at the end of the day, but how often are you then check your work accounts on your personal devices later that night?
We have entered an era of 24/7 accessibility. The same device that houses our text conversations with friends, our doctor’s appointments, our upcoming trip details, and our financial accounts also contains the key to all of our current work projects and meetings. The same devices that can quickly tell us the best route from our house to the nearest Thai restaurant also act as a channel for constant communication with our boss and our coworkers.
And you’re wondering why you so often feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, and unable to unplug?
To complicate matters, we also have a new phenomenon termed “Zoom fatigue.” The COVID-19 pandemic brought us fully into the world of video calls, and while this has been a great time saver, allowing us to conduct almost any interaction from within our home or our office, it introduces unique challenges.
“Zoom fatigue” (or “screen fatigue”) simply refers to a feeling of tiredness, worry, or burnout from overusing virtual communication platforms.
Virtual communication can cause us to feel fatigued for many reasons: the intensity of excessive close-up eye contact, seeing yourself talk as if looking in a mirror, restricted mobility, and general eye strain from screen glare just to name a few.
Tips For Navigating An Exhaustingly Digital World
Step 1 is simply to validate yourself in the way you’re feeling. Sometimes, it’s enough to just acknowledge that our digital reality can be challenging to navigate. You are not alone in the struggle.
Step 2 is to assess what changes can be made. Full-on disruption is of course always an option — if you feel that your screen fatigue and frustration with online work has reached extreme levels, you can certainly explore alternative careers and jobs that don’t require quite as much online engagements. The hard truth though, is that running from technology is a futile and ultimately exhausting escape plan. Rather than trying to evade the inevitable, we suggest some subtle changes to both your behavior and your mindset when it comes to technology.
- Learn to listen to and honor what your body is telling you. Begin noticing the first signs of screen fatigue and take a short break before full-on burnout hits.
- But also know when to push through. It may sound harsh, but work has to get done, and no one has died from screen fatigue. There are times when pushing through is necessary for important projects and productivity.
- Set boundaries and then set them again. We sound like a broken record, but boundaries with your boss, your coworkers (and for that matter, your friends and family) are essential. Be clear about when you are available to respond to texts, emails, and phone calls, and stick to it.
- Limiting personal screen time. It may sound obvious, but a lot of us are quick to complain about constant Zoom meetings while also spending hours watching TV, scrolling through Instagram, and reading online articles. If we can’t change how much time we spend onscreen at work, we can at least try to limit ourselves outside of work hours.
- Seek support when needed. Support can look like a lot of different things. Phone addiction is real and there are professionals who can help. Alternatively, finding a community of support can be useful in learning how to make changes and shift our mindsets.
When You & Your Boss Have Different Beliefs About Screen Time
Sometimes, our employers just need us to communicate what’s going on. Even the most emotionally aware boss can’t read your mind, and although “Zoom fatigue” is becoming more widely known, many leaders simply do not know that you are struggling.
If your boss is willing to hear you out, chances are there are small adjustments that can be made — quick breaks during long Zoom meetings, allowances for “audio only” participation, etc. And if they’re not willing to hear you out, it might be time to look for employment elsewhere…
In this Cup of Joy episode, Dr. Joy (employer) and Laine (employee) talk about their differing experiences with screen fatigue, illustrating why communication on this topic is so important.