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What Is the Connection Between Leadership and Digital Stress?

When we carry our digital devices with us it means that we bring our work with us everywhere we go. It's right there in our pocket or on the table next to us. Our brain and body are never really disconnected from our work life.

Last week I was at a 'meet and share' lunch event with The Social Media Club Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden, at collaborative workspace Entrepreneurial Hive.

The theme for this lunch was digital stress, a topical subject. Stress-related illnesses cause burn-out and mental illness and stress is one of the main reasons people are off work.

One of the questions we discussed was: How can we create digital health and wellness both in our private life and work life?

The moderator of the event, Niklas Angmyr who's an expert on digital stress, kicked off the lunch by sharing some ideas and thoughts about a better digital work life.

He started by telling us that apps and information on the web are designed to encourage us to constantly go and check them out. They are built to get us addicted to information. We form habits around how we work with them and applications such as the web, social media and email are all calling for our attention all the time.

When we carry our digital devices with us it means that we bring our work with us everywhere we go. It's right there in our pocket or on the table next to us. Our brain and body are never really disconnected from our work life.

If your brain is switched on all the time there is very little room for reflection and relaxing.

Angmyr also mentioned that about a year ago German Minister Andrea Nahles proposed a regulation to reduce workplace stress, which suggested banning employers from contacting workers after hours.

I like the idea of not sending emails in the evening or late at night. And if you work late there must be a solution where you can save your emails as drafts and auto-send them in the morning.

Ideally, digital tools should support us and help us work better together, but unfortunately they often have the opposite effect and cause digital stress.

Is it the organisational structure's or the individual's fault?

What causes digital stress is different for everyone. For some people it's the technical functions of digital technology that stresses them out. For others it's the enormous, never-ending flow of emails. One person I met at the lunch said: 'I always hunt for likes and shares, and I want my network to pay attention to what I do. In the long run this is pretty stressful.'

The big question is: Is it the organisational structure's or our individual responsibility to prevent digital stress? The answer is that it's a combination of both.

If you are part of a disorganised, under-managed workplace it's difficult to manage digital stress. You will find yourself constantly swimming against the current, which isn't sustainable in the long run.

If an organisation uses too many information and communications technology (ICT) systems this will cause issues when you try to get them to work together.

The more digital ingredients you add to the menu the more confused the dinner guests around the table will feel. Two common symptoms of digital technology overload are slow computers that take ages to start up and people not knowing how to use the different systems.

Bad meeting cultures

An acquaintance showed me his work diary last week. It was more or less fully packed with meetings from 09.30 to 17.00 every day. He didn't have much time for reflection. He also admitted: 'I never pay attention in all these meetings, I only listen at the end when we make the decisions.' I wonder how many people are actually in the mood for discussion and conscious listening when attending work meetings all day long.

A bad meeting culture is one of the many signs that an organisation needs to organise its knowledge exchange in a better way.

We manage large amounts of information every day and if you have better control over where it comes from you are going to be better at preventing digital stress.

Well-performed digital collaboration creates a more attractive workplace. And an organisation that handles knowledge well will also improve its employer branding.

Current knowledge issue: Knowledge is saved in email inboxes instead of in a collaborative space where everyone can access it.

Causes digital stress

  • Meaningless and too many key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Strict rules
  • Too many meetings
  • Poor leadership and management
  • People keeping information to themselves

Prevents digital stress

  • Collaboration and openness
  • Well-managed meetings
  • Thoughtful branding and vision for the work you do
  • A continuous feedback system
  • Trust


An organisation with disorganised leaders and poor managers who don't care enough to set up a structure that works will create digital stress and an anti-human workplace.

Leaders and managers who care about the flow of knowledge and structure will be much more successful and will prevent digital stress.

Some tips that I jotted down after listening to the group discussions at the Social Media Club Gothenburg

  • Switch off the sound on your devices. Even if it doesn't disturb you it will disturb other people around you.
  • Write better emails and avoid cc-ing too many people.
  • Be mindful of the position of your desk so you won't sit awkwardly for too long and suffer back and neck issues.
  • Have breaks on a regular basis when you are working. This is very important if you are passionate about your work! One participant told us about her dog that used to remind her to take regular breaks away from the computer.
  • Some people found list tools such as useful.
  • Learn about information flow in your organisation.
  • Have regular ICT 1-2-1 sessions where people can go and ask ICT-related questions. People are much more effective when they know how to manage their own devices.
  • Get better at organising meetings and skip all unnecessary meetings. One company I heard of isn't allowing anyone to bring smartphones, tablets or laptops into meetings and as a result people pay attention when they are there.

The Social Media Club Gothenburg is run by Maria Gustafsson och Lotta Gergils-Aston, both well-known networkers and collaborators, and has hosted monthly lunches since 2009. We were about 50 people at the lunch sitting around six round tables. After lunch every group shared their discussion on stage. The motto of the SMC is: If you get it, share it.

Hashtag #smcgbg

Photos Sina Farat and Fotolia alphaspirit.


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