What is Digital Fatigue?
We find ourselves living in a largely digital world. The first thing many of us do when we wake up is check our mobile phones, then we spend all day answering emails, joining zoom calls, or staring at our computer screens in one way or another. Intentional or not, we interact with technology countless times a day, both professionally and personally. In many ways, it has streamlined how we work, and has an endless list of positive benefits.
But it also creates issues.
One of the most prominent issues that come with heavy screen time is digital fatigue, which can be described as a type of mental exhaustion due to prolonged technology usage. We were already living in a tech-dominated world, but the pandemic only intensified this. In many ways, the way the world was forced to adapt to COVID-19 highlighted the benefits of technology in the professional world, and therefore a great number of practices introduced or popularised during this time have stuck around… remote working, online training and so on.
Digital fatigue has become somewhat of a buzzword, but that does not mean it isn’t important or relevant. It’s crucially important that it is taken seriously on the organisational, department, team and individual levels.
What causes Digital Fatigue?
Digital fatigue can happen as a direct result of staring at a screen all day. For those of us who now work at home, there are fewer distractions creating screen time breaks. Lunch with colleagues is a thing of the past, just like face-to-face meetings, commuting, etc.
This screen time fatigue can be worsened by…
- Connectivity issues
- Sound or image issues
- Too many visual and audio stimuli
- Difficulty setting boundaries
- Sense of overload
- Lack of engaging content or processes
Even if we do not work from home, we are spending most of the day staring at a computer and many office practices that used to happen physically, have still been moved online.
There is a sense that we have more to prove online. For example, being required to always keep your status active or having to work harder to look attentive in virtual meetings.
In this respect, online working can make us feel more exposed than working directly alongside colleagues. The stress of this exposure and the feeling of no privacy can create further stress and fatigue.
Digital fatigue can therefore be considered a form of burnout.
Why we need to avoid Digital Fatigue
Just like employee burnout, digital fatigue amongst employees will impact knowledge absorption and engagement rates, both of which reduce productivity. It can create stress and anxiety as well as physical health symptoms like posture and eyesight problems. All of these factors will influence employee retention rates.
There is, therefore, a moral obligation to ensure the well-being of your employees. As well as an organisational productivity concern as digital fatigue can have catastrophic effects on employee performance and retention.
Avoiding Digital Fatigue in Training
For Learning and Development professionals, the biggest concern when thinking about digital fatigue is how it can impact training. Digital solutions in the workplace, such as digital training should not be considered anything but positive, so long as they are managed effectively so that they don’t contribute to digital fatigue. Online training has created new opportunities for engaging and enjoyable learning, it is just a case of getting it right.
We’ve compiled some tips for ensuring positive training programs that do not contribute to burnout.
- Gamification. One of the major causes of fatigue is employees feeling uninspired and demotivated, which can lead them to feeling lethargic and tired. Creating engaging content and processes is useful in encouraging employees to feel switched on and interested, which in turn helps them to maintain a positive attitude.
The gamification of learning is a strategy that has been growing in recent years. With more and more workplace training moving online, and e-learning becoming an increasingly popular tool for the modern business, gamified training has grown into a prominent strategy for positive employee engagement.
The process of using game-like features or structures for things that are not typically considered games, gamification of training can involve adding points systems, simulations, or puzzles to an otherwise traditional training course. Gamification can be very simple or very complex, but the key objective is to grab (and maintain) the attention of your learners and motivate them to engage with the content. It ultimately motivates employees to take on active roles in their jobs.
- Social Learning. Another leading cause of digital fatigue is how remote working can cut out the social aspect of our professions. This can be avoided in training by ensuring a wider training program includes some training that is social and interactive. Including opportunities for learners to collaborate and share knowledge can be useful as it not only challenges fatigue but improves communication and cultivates a knowledge-sharing culture which can boost overall productivity and performance within your business.
- Variety. In this sense, we can highlight the importance of a varied wider training program. The best and most effective programs offer different formats of training on a range of subjects. This helps training to stay interesting for learners and avoids training programs contributing to fatigue. Of course, this will vary from business to business, but offering some in-person training where possible can be useful!
It can also be beneficial to offer some elective learning opportunities alongside mandatory ones, offering learners the option to explore new skills (this also boosts employee satisfaction and retention!) Unique learning pathways can be a useful tool when seeking to keep training satisfying and engaging for individual employees who may be suffering from burnout or fatigue.
- Meaning. Ensuring there is meaning behind every action an employee takes can be a very important element of avoiding fatigue. Training is no exception. The discussions around gamification and variety play into this. Allowing employees to shape their paths where possible helps them feel in control, as though they are working towards a bigger goal. It can also be beneficial to ensure employees understand exactly why certain mandatory training is carried out.
To further this, an open channel of communication must be maintained with employees. Consulting with them about what’s working for them, any ideas they may have and so forth can help them feel like active participants.
Make it clear that every individual’s personal development and upskilling is valued.
The above list is non-exhaustive and serves as a starting point for evaluating how your organisation delivers training. The key things to keep in mind when carrying out training are:
Digital fatigue is totally avoidable and manageable, even in an entirely remote business. For it is not the medium that is the cause, it is how it’s managed. Rather than a cause, training can be the opponent of digital fatigue, boosting employee engagement and wellness.
Extra steps… We highlighted earlier that technology issues can be a huge contributor to digital fatigue, so it’s important that remote businesses especially work hard to ensure these largely avoidable issues don’t create extra hurdles (i.e.. access to reliable equipment, a comprehensive LMS etc.)
Employees can also be educated or trained on wellness and how to minimise their own and their team’s fatigue when working online or remotely. Measures include managing screen time, time management at home, and ensuring a productive environment.
Ultimately, dealing with employee burnout is a complex process, and digital fatigue is no different. When it isn’t taken seriously, it can have serious physical, mental and emotional consequences. However, when it comes to online training, digital fatigue can be avoided, and even challenged, by approaching training with the right tools.
For more general burnout concerns, read our post from May.
Here are links to some of our e-learning courses that might help manage digital fatigue related issues for your employees…
We offer a comprehensive range of learning materials, including fully editable offline materials, and off-the-shelf e-learning courses to help your organisation build a successful and engaging training program. Our virtual materials can be explored here. We can also provide a learning management system to ensure the smooth running of your training and avoid technical issues that create stress and difficulty.