· Comment

Could mobile minimalism solve digital burnout?

If burnout – characterised by the World Health Organisation as exhaustion, job negativity or cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy – is acknowledged as an occupational phenomenon, a rapidly evolving variant of the condition has got to be digital burnout.

Looking at the role of the digital device, the statistics paint an interesting picture. Research conducted in 2022 found that mobile users in the top mobile-first markets were spending 4.8 hours a day on mobile apps. An even earlier study, in 2020, concluded that on average people open their phones 58 times a day; 30 of those times were during work hours. This suggests that at least some of the apps being used are for work purposes, and here lies the problem. The lines between our work and our personal lives have become blurred and the common denominator is the smartphone.

It's now considered normal, even expected, that we will check emails in the evening, we’ll answer work calls at the weekend and accept calendar invitations long after our official hours have finished. But this ‘always on’ situation is having an impact, and in some cases, it’s leading to digital burnout.

The silent culprit in our mental health crisis

One of the challenges is that apps we previously only used for socialising or entertainment such as WhatsApp, Facebook and X have now been co-opted for business purposes. It’s hard to switch off, even if you want to. Added to this is that those useful apps and tools are also designed to absorb as much personal data as possible. It is then sold to third-parties and advertisers who use it to bombard us with even more information.

Analysis of nearly one million Google Play apps in 2018, found that about 90% may share data with Google, and 40% with Facebook. Tracking our preferences, locations and how we use these apps professionally and personally is big, profitable business, and it’s not restricted to individual brand platforms but every digital touchpoint we interact with.

Tackling digital exposure

HR professionals are already witnessing the effects of digital burnout, and the toll it’s taking on the well-being of employees and their work. The backdrop of hybrid working with tasks distributed across so many different digital channels – from Slack conversations running in tandem with email trails, and video meetings being informed by instant messages on Teams – means it can be difficult to step away from the data deluge.  

For employees facing digital burnout, this is overwhelming, but when it comes to how they use their mobile phones and being more mindful of what they do and how they do it, they have a choice.

Work notifications ruining family time for younger workers

Digital minimalism is a movement that aims to remove the stress caused by smartphones and other devices without removing their core functionality. Solutions are being designed to enable ‘intentional’ mobile experiences that allow employees to set boundaries between their work and private usage, stop the endless surveillance of their data, cut out the unnecessary third-party targeting and give them space. 

The most progressive minimalist models provide access to a ‘home’ space on the phone which includes a suite of tools such as email, a calendar and storage, that are secure and cannot be infiltrated for data harvesting. But where a user wants to interact with a commercial app store, and access tools they need for work, this can be done in a separate part of the phone, where their data will also be guarded against unwanted monetisation.

Not all employees need digital downtime, but for those that do, HR managers can now recommend a smartphone solution that puts them back in control, allowing their mental wellbeing to take priority.

By Petter Neby, CEO at Punkt