Digital Burnout in the Modern Age

How young professionals and leaders can avoid workplace stress impacting career

Digital burnout is an increasingly common issue in the modern business world, in many cases only made more of a risk with the rise of remote and hybrid working. What do young professionals need to know and how can they handle these challenges?

Digital Burnout

A successful career is an aspiration shared by millions. But while it is a central ingredient in the recipe for a better quality of life, many young professionals are falling into the trap of digital burnout. If you are one of them, now is the time to restore a sense of balance once and for all.

This one-stop guide for young professionals and leaders will answer all of your killer questions, including but not limited to;

  • What is digital burnout and the symptoms of it?
  • How can you avoid or reduce the threat of digital burnout?
  • Why is it important to avoid digital burnout?
  • How can you successfully balance ambition with mental health?
  • What can be done if you experience digital burnout?
What Is Digital Burnout?

What is digital burnout?

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

While primarily thought of as an issue that relates to your career, young professionals can experience digital burnout due to leisurely digital interactions too. Understandably, the risks are at an all-time high following an 18-month period that has been dominated by lockdowns and the pandemic. After all, our lives have been primarily lived out in the virtual world. 

The stats regarding digital burnout are damning. Some of the most telling findings are;

  • 67% of workers admit to feeling burnout at least sometimes, with 22% stating that it is a common occurrence.
  • Comments regarding digital burnout have doubled since the beginning of the global pandemic.
  • Over 82% of remote workers in the U.S. have experienced signs of digital burnout in recent times.
  • Gen Z is the most likely to feel disengaged, unexcited, and unmotivated by their work.
  • Up to 40% of workers have stated that they feel digital burnout as a direct fallout of the pandemic and changes to their workflow.

In short, digital burnout is a situation where physical and mental exhaustion is caused by spending too much time in front of screens. It’s an issue that is affecting young professionals more than other generations while leaders should know that employees suffering from digital burnout are 2.6x more likely to quit their jobs and 63% more likely to take sick days. 

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 in the workplace, which can subsequently damage confidence levels and the willingness to actively pursue endeavours designed to climb up the career ladder – such as further training or attending networking events in your field.

Furthermore, 82% of young workers state that digital burnout causes negative impacts on their romantic relationships as well as bonds with family members. There are additionally heavy suggestions that digital burnout in your career can consequently cause people to overlook various aspects of their physical and mental wellness. The list includes not having the time to see friends, the motivation to exercise or eat healthy meals, and avoiding hobbies. Digital burnout can leave young professionals feeling trapped both in the workplace and personal lives, which is why it must be avoided or treated at all costs.

One of the first steps to overcoming digital burnout is to acknowledge the signs. The World Health Organization categorizes 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 bring negative impacts to your speed of productivity, the accuracy of work, and general feelings towards work. However, young professionals may also experience the situation where they actually find themselves working longer hours. This is because, despite their burnout, they still have an underlying desire to climb the career ladder and reach the senior positions they deserve. When you’re not working harder, working longer is the only solution. Sadly, it’s a vicious cycle that will cause progressive burnout.

Worse still, digital burnout is usually accompanied by heightened stress levels. While we all experience stress from time to time, prolonged exposure has a hugely detrimental impact on physical and mental wellbeing with headaches, heartburn, increased heart attack risks, insomnia, high blood pressure, infertility, depression and anxiety, weakened immune systems, and fatigue among the 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, the presence of digital burnout will exacerbate the situation. If you feel that it is creeping into your world, now is the time to take action.

Digital Burnout Stages

What are the stages of digital burnout?

Digital burnout is a term that can define a wide range of symptoms as mentioned above. However, it is shown that many people follow a very similar path. Over half of all workers find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work during out-of-office hours, which can accelerate the development of digital burnout too. The five stages are detailed below:

  • Honeymoon period: When starting a new job or way of working, you won’t notice the fact that you are 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 that there are some negative aspects caused by digital interactions. Productivity may fall slightly while minor anxiety is another common issue to surface out of this stage.
  • Chronic symptoms: Exhaustion and the physical/mental repercussions are regular or potentially persistent. This is also the stage where you are likely to see an impact on relationships, friendships, and other key 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. You may have developed bad habits in an attempt to cope.
  • Complete burnout: At this point, you know that digital burnout has taken over but 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 due to this state of burnout.
Avoiding Digital Burnout

Controlling digital burnout

Given the impacts on productivity and morale, which will ultimately harm a company’s bottom line, employers should be willing to work with employees on this issue. As a young professional, though, it’s equally vital that you take accountability by making a conscious effort to avoid or contain digital burnout before it restricts your career progress. Here are 10 proactive steps that can be taken to achieve success:

Follow a routine

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

Take regular breaks

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, the change of scenery and the ability to enjoy the real world rather than the digital one can aid your body, mind, and soul.

Reduce leisure 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, it’s vital that you reduce leisurely screentime. Spend less time watching TV and more time embracing real people and surroundings. An hour without screens before bed is useful too.

Adopt a balanced lifestyle

Reduced screentime is one aspect of a balanced lifestyle, but you must not 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 are spending a lot of time in front of screens. Stress less and burnout feels less drastic.

Restore human interactions

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 digital burnout. Where possible, getting back into the office for at least one day per week can reduce stress and the 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 will feel in greater control of the situation. This will bring benefits in those other aspects of life while simultaneously having a positive influence on your career goals.

Choose offline training

Self-development is essential for any young professional wanting to reach the top of their respective field. While eLearning and online courses do create some wonderful 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.

Stop comparing yourself to others

When comparing yourself to others in the real world or on social media, it can lead to negative thoughts and stressful situations. It has been called the Comparison Trap, and may also leave you feeling as though 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 is far easier to feel the impacts of digital burnout when you aren’t even on the right path to begin with. If you are 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.

Seek professional support

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 rediscovering a healthier situation.

What Leaders Need To Know About Digital Burnout

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. As a duty of human carer, as well as to your future career, it’s crucial that the right steps are taken to protect all employees from this situation.

Burnout is believed to cost the global economy in excess of $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 well as the employees directly. Bosses can create open dialogues with workers, focus on introducing non-digital elements, and cultivating a better sense of 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.

Minimising Digital Burnout

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

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