Do Your Employees Need A Digital Detox?

Danielle Beurteaux

“Digital detoxing”—taking a technological Men hiking on rocky mountainside --- Image by © Ross Woodhall/cultura/Corbisfast—has gained traction in recent years as research (like this and this) triggers concerns that our 24-hour tech lives are bad for our health. But are digital detoxes actually useful, or just a fad? And should employers encourage their people to disconnect, unplug, and disappear?

The dark side of tech use

In 2012, German carmaker Volkswagen stopped its servers from sending some of its employees emails when they weren’t working, after receiving complaints that work was infringing on their personal lives. And it’s not the only one; some companies are going so far as to ban email altogether.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones. We’re spending more time than ever online, and the results aren’t always healthy. Facebook use has been linked to depression and envy, and computer use to sleep disorders and stress.

Digital detoxing: Big business

There’s definitely a market for tech detoxes. There are now resorts and dedicated detox companies that offer no-tech retreats with everything from yoga to chefs, meditation, and group sessions. No devices allowed, of course—they must be checked at the door.

California-based Digital Detox runs retreats and workshops, and its house rules run beyond the basic surrender of smartphones: no networking, no clocks, and no talking about work.

Tech to combat tech use

For those with tech willpower issues, there are (of course) apps for that—tech to help with tech addictions. Flipd lets user lock their phone and also remotely lock others’ phones as well.

There’s also My Time, which logs smartphone use to provide a window into how often, how long, and what for.

Maybe tech isn’t the enemy; it’s how we use it.

The counter-opinion is that digital detoxes are just a quick (and expensive) attempt to treat the symptoms and not the disease, while completely avoiding larger problems. There’s also some research that indicates computer use helps cognition. If companies encourage consistent and balanced use of technology and, like Volkswagen, help employees maintain a divide between work and private life, would a detox even be necessary?

The question remains: Should companies institute tech rules to help employees maintain work-life balance?

Want more on employer/employee relations? See HR and the emerging employee relationship management cycle.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.