Digital Detox - the Business Imperative

08/08/2016 12:35 | Updated 08 August 2016

Many Millenials now complain that they don't have sufficient sex according to a recent US report. I wonder why, because this contradicts the perception of the Millenials as the 'hook-up' generation.

Could it be related to the fact that so many are continually connected to their mobile devices and hence social media app. Phubbing is now the norm: Even when in the same room, rather than talking face-to-face it is not uncommon for people to connect with each other via social media apps such as What's App. As a result, as noted by Sherry Turkle, many have lost the art of conversation. The art of letter writing too is a dying one with many of the young generation unable to use cursive writing. And indeed in some schools it is not even taught anymore. Sleep deprivation too has been noted as one of the side effects of being constantly connected. And so the list goes on because of course sleep deprivation leads to lower performance both at home and work.

However a recent report from Ofcom (the UK telecoms regulator) suggest that all is not lost as people are increasingly o for a digital detox by which they disconnect for a period of days to weeks.

The report focused mainly on social aspects of digital connectivity. Nonetheless there are some very important lessons for business too if we are really to try to stem the ever burgeoning effect of information overload on our well-being and ability to perform effectively at work.

First we need to dig deeper into why business people feel they must stay connected and often shun the notion of a digital detox. Amongst the most central are:
• Feeling insecure - either as a basic personality trait or because the world we live in is in such turmoil and especially since Brexit. Turmoil and uncertainty within an organisation are known to drive the volume of email.
• Organisational culture - some organisations create a culture, often driven from the top where you are expected to be available 24x7x365. As Bataris points out your behaviour and attitude effects mine. When challenged such CEOs often reply with 'that's how our business is these days'.
• Addiction - many openly admit that they are now addicted to email and especially social media. Some have noted checking their phones even during intimate moments.

All three of these reasons are worrying and not least because unlike substance addiction there is no medical cure. Having a digital detox is one way to start regaining one's life and re-engaging with the real world through the six sense with which we were born. The need for a digital detox is not new and has been talked about for over ten years when email overload fist started to become a problem.
However, with so may of the world's economies in such a finely balanced state between recession and stagnation, now is a good time for business leaders to look for any avenue which might help improve performance. Tackling the time wasted on email and social media is one.

How can business capitalise on the results of this study and what is happening socially? First, CEOs and their leadership teams need to lead by example and establish a clear policy about disconnecting when on leave. They themselves should take the email free vacation pledge. This will enable people both to re-charge their personal batteries and re-connect with their relations. Some organisation such as Daimler have already made a start and France and Germany are trying to introduce a law which makes it unacceptable to expect employees to deal with email outside normal working hours. Maybe a sledge hammer to crack a not but if businesses can not put their own house in order so be it.

Most business digital detox programmes have focused on email as the starting point and in doing so have banned email in favour of collaborative social media platforms. This is not the solution as it basically compounds and exacerbates the problem because now one has multiple channels to which you must remain connected. That is unless, second the organisation addresses it use of digital media and is clear about what is used how and when.

Third, organisations, need to include help for dealing with digital addiction (be it email and/or social media) in their well-being programmes just as many now do for depression.

Fourth, organisations should provide training to enable people to prepare for a digital detox, for example how to clean up the inbox before going on leave, pre-schedule blogs etc.

Fifth, there must be a strategy for handling the digital backlog be that email or blogs etc. Why, because another often cited reason for staying connected is the mountain of digital information awaiting one on one's return.

Digital disconnects can be for just a short period, for example whilst out with friends and family. Stemming this appalling habit of Phubbing and instead making it the norm to ignore the phone will help move people along the full detox route. Whatever route is taken it would be a great shame if business leaders do not take note and start to change their email and social media culture. Unless business leaders grasp this thorny nettle and start to set the role model individuals opting for a digital detox will be swimming against the tide.