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Digital Burnout at Work

Discover signs of screen overload and tips to ensure workplace stress doesn’t impact your career 

Digital burnout is an all-too-common issue in today’s business world. But with the pandemic and its impact on remote and hybrid working, screen overload is becoming an even more serious concern. What do young professionals need to know about digital burnout and how to handle its challenges? 

 Everyone wants a successful career. But while it’s a central ingredient in the recipe for a better life, an increasing number of young professionals are succumbing to digital burnout. If you are one of them, now is the time to restore a sense of balance. 

 This one-stop guide for young professionals and leaders will answer your questions, including; 

  • What is digital burnout and its symptoms? 

  • How can you avoid or reduce the threat of digital burnout? 

  • Why is avoiding digital burnout important? 

  • How do you balance ambition with mental health? 

  • What can you do if you’re suffering from digital burnout? 

Shot of a young woman looking stressed out while working on a laptop at home

What is digital burnout? 

Today most people can relate to burnout. Dictionary.com defines it as “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.” Digital burnout is when those conditions are caused by long-term exposure to digital platforms.  

While primarily thought of as an issue relating to your career, ymany people also experience digital burnout due to leisurely digital interactions. Understandably, the risks are at an all-time high following 18 months of lockdowns and fallout from the pandemic. As restrictions in the “real world” increased, our lives shifted to the digital realm and the impact of that transition is now revealing itself.  

The statistics around digital burnout are alarming. Some of the most telling findings are; 

  • 67% of workers admit to feeling burnout sometimes, with 22% stating that it is common. 

  • Comments regarding digital burnout have doubled since the beginning of the global pandemic. 

  • Over 82% of remote workers in the U.S. have recently experienced signs of digital burnout. 

  • Gen Z is most likely to feel disengaged, unexcited, and unmotivated by their work. 

  • Up to 40% of workers have stated that digital burnout is directly related to the pandemic and its effect on their workflow. 

Simply put, digital burnout is when physical and mental exhaustion is caused by spending too much time in front of screens. It’s an issue that is disproportionately affecting young professionals more than other generations. At the same time, leaders should know that employees suffering from digital burnout are 2.6x more likely to quit their jobs, and 63% are more likely to take sick days.  

Shot of an unrecognizable woman using a mobile phone indoors

What are the symptoms, and why does it matter? 

Digital burnout can have an immensely detrimental impact on a young professional. Burnout can leave you feeling disengaged and unmotivated, which in turn damage your confidence and your willingness to actively pursue those initiatives that help climb the career ladder. Things as elemental as further training or attending networking events.  

Furthermore, 82% of young workers state that digital burnout affects their relationships. There are also suggestions that digital burnout in your career can cause you to overlook various aspects of your physical and mental wellness. The list includes not having the time to see friends, no motivation to exercise or eat healthy meals, and avoiding hobbies. The impact of digital burnout can be devastating and leave young professionals feeling trapped both in the workplace and their personal lives. Avoiding it has become a necessity.  

One of the first steps to overcoming digital burnout is acknowledging its signs. The World Health Organization categorizes the symptoms into three areas; 

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 

  • reduced professional efficacy. 

Digital burnout will impact your productivity, the accuracy of your work, and general feelings toward work. Despite this, professionals may also find themselves working even longer hours because they still have an underlying desire to climb the career ladder and reach the senior positions they deserve. Unfortunately, working longer seems the only solution when you're not working harder. And those longer hours deepen the burnout, creating a vicious cycle.  

Worse still, as digital burnout sets in, stress levels go up. While we all experience stress from time to time, prolonged exposure has a detrimental effect on physical and mental wellbeing with headaches, heartburn, insomnia, high blood pressure, infertility, depression and anxiety, weakened immune systems, and fatigue, among the more common repercussions. As such, any combination of those signs could be linked to digital burnout. With 60% of young professionals feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed, digital burnout will only worsen these conditions.  

Shot of a tired young woman sitting on the floor leaning against her bed.

What are the stages of digital burnout? 

Although there are many faces of digital burnout, many people’s symptoms follow a very similar path. Over half of all workers find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work during out-of-office hours, accelerating the development of digital burnout. Here are five stage of digital burnout:

  • Honeymoon period: When starting a new job or way of working, you won’t notice that you’re spending too much time connected with screens as you will focus solely on the positives. But the seed has already been planted. 

  • Acknowledgment phase: At this stage, you are starting to realize some negative aspects caused by digital interactions. Productivity may fall slightly, while minor anxiety is another common issue that may surface in this stage. 

  • Chronic symptoms: Exhaustion and the physical/mental repercussions are regular or persistent. This is also the stage where you’re likely to see an impact on relationships, friendships, and other aspects of your life. 

  • Crisis stage: The chronic symptoms of digital burnout have become hugely detrimental to your life. You will have a negative outlook, while physical damage may have become long-term. And in an attempt to cope, you may have developed bad habits. 

  • Complete burnout: At this point, you know that digital burnout has taken over can’t do anything about it. Burnout defines virtually every aspect of your daily life. You continue to live and work, but everything feels damaged. 

10 steps to take to prevent digital burnout 

Given the impacts on productivity, morale, and ultimately the company’s bottom line, it's in the best interest of employers to work with employees on this issue. As a professional, though, it’s equally vital that you take responsibility by making a conscious effort to avoid or contain digital burnout before it impacts your career progress. Here are ten proactive steps that can be taken to achieve success: 

Routine. Routine. Routine.  

Over half of workers indicate ‘flexibility’ as the key benefit for remote working, but losing your schedule could actually be a catalyst for digital burnout. It is much easier on your mental wellbeing when you have set times for work, and it also reduces the risk of working too long. In turn, you’ll be better positioned to establish a work-life balance.  

Step away from the screen 

Burnout can naturally be caused by working too hard for too long. Your body and mind need a chance to recuperate through a combination of regular breaks throughout the day (drinks breaks, exercise, etc.) as well as vacations. Now more than ever, a change of scenery and the ability to enjoy the real world can aid your body, mind, and soul. 

Reduce personal screentime 

Screentime for recreational and entertainment purposes increased by over 50% during the pandemic. If you cannot escape the need for extended screentime for work purposes, you must reduce leisurely screentime. Spend less time watching TV and more time interacting with real people and your surroundings. An hour without screens before bed is helpful too. 

Balance is key 

Reduced screentime is one aspect of a balanced lifestyle, but you shouldn’t ignore other factors. Regular exercise and good sleep patterns will aid your mental health from a hormonal level, while nutrition will leave you feeling less irritable, even when you spend a lot of time in front of screens. These simple things will help burnout feel less drastic. 

Get personal 

Remote workers are prone to digital burnout for several reasons, including the less predictable schedules. However, a lack of face-to-face connections with colleagues and clients can also add to the problem. Where possible, getting back into the office for at least one day a week can reduce stress and its associated burnout symptoms. 

Prioritize other things 

A great career is vital, but it’s only one aspect of your life. Learning to focus on your health and family first will suddenly make any digital burnout sources feel less powerful. In turn, you’ll have greater control over the situation. This will bring benefits in those other aspects of life while simultaneously positively influencing your career goals. 

Choose offline training 

Self-development is essential for any young professional wanting to reach the top of their field. While eLearning and online courses create excellent and versatile opportunities, offline training is vital for fighting screen fatigue and digital burnout. Interactive exercises with other people keep your mind fresh while the engagement aids your retention. 

Avoid the comparison trap 

Comparing yourself to others in the real world or on social media can lead to negative thoughts and stressful situations. It has been called the Comparison Trap and may also leave you thinking you need to achieve more. Sadly, pushing yourself into those situations won’t lead you to greater success. Instead, it will encourage digital burnout. 

Pursue your passion 

It’s far easier to feel the impacts of digital burnout when you aren’t even on the right path to begin with. If you’re not currently pursuing the career that you truly deserve, now is the time to put things right once and for all. When it feels as though the effort and sacrifices are worthwhile, you will not be as likely to encounter the final stages of burnout. 

Know when to seek help 

Mental health is a growing concern for individuals of all backgrounds. Reports of anxiety and depression have seen an 11% increase in the past year. While digital burnout is far from the only symptom, it does play a significant role. Speaking to a doctor or healthcare professional could be the key to understanding the situation and discovering a healthier solution.  

What leaders and employees need to know 

If you’re a young entrepreneur or in charge of a team, it’s important to acknowledge that digital burnout isn’t just about you. Over one-in-three workers feel that their organizations don’t do enough to tackle burnout, including digital burnout. The combination of burnout symptoms and the feeling of being unvalued by bosses is a recipe for business disaster. So, it’s crucial that the right steps are taken to protect all employees from this situation. 

Burnout is believed to cost the global economy over $350bn annually. Meanwhile, it is suggested that up to three hours of each day is wasted by the average worker, with digital burnout being one of the leading causes. In short, it is hurting the business and the employees directly. Bosses can create open dialogues with workers, introduce non-digital elements, and cultivate better team unity to reduce the risks. When coupled with individual efforts, the battle to maintain a work-life balance that promotes a strong mentality is far smoother. From a personal perspective, it enables you to invest more time into your personal career development. 

Digital burnout has become one of the biggest threats to aspirational young professionals and entrepreneurs alike, affecting millions of workers across the Millennial and Gen Z demographics. And while it’s an issue that has been growing for several years, the pandemic has caused a significant increase. 

Thankfully, you can keep the symptoms at bay with a bit of education and a conscious effort to avoid and overcome digital burnout. And with your work-life balance restored, your career will be back on the right trajectory in no time. 

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