take a minute

Why timeout from technology is essential to wellbeing and productivity in the workplace
21 Sep 2023

I lead our workplace team, training team and Quality Assurance team at MHFA England®. We provide consultancy and training to organisations of all sizes. We work across a wide range of industries, supporting them to identify and understand their employee’s mental health needs and create lasting solutions to help people thrive at work. Additionally, we help people to develop the confidence and skills to look after their own and others’ wellbeing. 

My role isn’t just about training. We support businesses to build and enhance their approach to wellbeing, with a focus on culture, health, and business performance so each organisation, no matter its size or sector, meets or exceeds their organisational objectives.

Technology enhances how we work every day. For me, it increases connection between teams, partners, and clients. I am more efficient because of tech (my brain is also more tired because of tech!). Technology allows me to drop team members a message to check-in more regularly and has allowed team members, who live further away from the office, to feel more involved. Since the pandemic, and even though I prefer in person meetings, I also get to speak to and have more time with clients when I do so online.

I know that technology has helped us increase the reach of our training and consultancy. We aren’t limited by geography and more people have access and opportunity to attend our mental health training when delivered online through our digital solutions, thereby ensuring inclusivity and accessibility no matter where people operate.

MHFA England’s work is underpinned by research and is data driven. Technology has allowed us to enhance the data we use to measure our impact and make better decisions for our clients.

Digital wellbeing considerations for the workplace

Technology can have both a positive and negative impact on employees’ wellbeing. We are reliant on tech to deliver business outcomes; tech helps us to adapt our ways of working and increases the opportunity to connect instantly and work together across the globe. However, we are using tech more than ever and it can mean we find it increasingly hard to disconnect. Even if we are lucky enough for work not to creep into our personal time, a lot of us find ourselves moving from one bit of tech to another at home. 

Emails and other messages can creep into our personal time and thoughts because we connect them to our phones, even when we aren’t at work. For some organisations there is an expectation that you can be contacted at any time, meaning people aren’t being encouraged to disconnect even when the working day or week is finished. We also know too much tech is having an impact on our energy levels, our productivity, and our ability to have good balance in our lives. 

Organisations must continue to encourage regular breaks away from screens while increasing the opportunity for in person connection. You can have a flexible working environment and still have people meet away from technology. Bringing people into a room together, without everyone being attached to technology can promote connection, creativity, high energy, and increase productivity. 

I think organisations can continue to increase their focus on how work impacts people’s wellbeing, both positively and negatively, be those considerations around financial wellbeing, digital wellbeing, stress, or mental wellbeing in general.

Flexible working and tech

A positive of tech is it enables us to have more flexible working practices, encouraging hybrid working, and improve our ways of working. All of which can bring many benefits to people’s wellbeing. We should all consider if tech is having a negative impact on employee’s wellbeing and many organisations rarely ask employees or measure if it is.

Meeting heavy cultures is something I see in a lot of organisations; this has increased even more since our working world changed in 2020 and stems from the fact that we all work and connect online more. You know the score, bouncing between meetings and apologising at the start of each one for being a few minutes late. It has become the norm these days to spend time in back-to-back online meetings. But digital wellbeing needs to be considered more, especially by encouraging breaks in between. 

At MHFA England we work hard to respect people’s calendars and encourage team members to step away from their desk regularly throughout the day to disconnect and re-energise. We also diarise across the organisation times in everyone’s diaries which are meeting free times – e.g., 12-1pm to allow a lunchtime break and Friday’s between 3pm-5pm to allow people to finish work without heading into the weekend with back-to-back meetings and actions to follow up on.

Organisations can consider how tech is used during meetings. We have lost seeing the power of stepping into a meeting room without our body language being blocked by a laptop, being fully present and not distracted by technology or us connecting with colleagues at the start of a meeting instead of finishing an email or being on our phones. 

Stepping away from tech

MHFA England’s wellbeing strategy includes two wellbeing weeks a year, one in summer and another in winter. This protected break, where you have less worry about returning to work with a full inbox or missing meetings you might have enjoyed, is a fantastic opportunity to focus on disconnecting and supporting wellbeing in a way that works for you.

Personally, I need to be encouraged to disconnect from tech, which is why I am grateful to have a very energetic dog who allows me at least 90 minutes a day to walk and be disconnected. I have always felt challenged by the feeling that I am not being effective and productive at work if I am not typing away and connected to a device where people can reach me instantly. But I am finding that I do my best thinking, planning, and problem solving when I step away from my desk.

Exercise is an important aspect for me in staying well. I have additional moments in my week when I run or play netball, which provide additional breaks. I also love live comedy and live music, which encourages you to step away from tech and embrace the moment. I am still struck by the fact that I am one of a few not watching it through my phone. 

I know it is hard and I find that even when I am not using tech for work, it still forms such a big part of my life. If I’m doing an online exercise class, wanting to listen to music and scrolling to find something that fits the moment, looking up recipes and food I want to eat, or wanting to connect with friends and family – tech is part of my life.

In some ways it feels so simple to be able to just disconnect and turn everything off. But we must also acknowledge that tech and the digital world is ever evolving and has and will continue to enhance our lives in many ways. 

We just need to remember to look up and feel the good from the non-digital aspects of the world around us too. This is why initiatives like “techtimeout tuesday” are so important for us all and I hope that many organisations will take up the opportunity to take part. 

Vicki Cockman

Head of Client Delivery for MHFA England