Five signs of a poor company digital culture – and how to fix them

The CEO of a 120,000-employee bank retiring at the age of 65 told one of our trainers that she was glad to be out of the world of “heavy tech” and that it was the most stressful thing she had ever experienced in her career, and she really meant it she did I don’t know how to deal with it.

While technology provides many benefits, it increasingly increases the pressure on employees to be “always on,” multitask, respond quickly, and rarely have distractions. Here are five signs of poor digital behavior and how HR leaders can address them.

Employees do not control their time and attention at work

Lack of agency can take many forms:

  • Employees are expected to respond immediately to requests from superiors or co-workers.

  • They keep their email/Slack inboxes open all the time and/or check them constantly to make sure they haven’t missed anything important.

  • Their calendar is filled with meetings that they don’t even have to attend without their permission.

  • They experience FOMO, or real consequences, if they miss a meeting.

  • Meetings are scheduled back-to-back, leaving little time for preparation and virtually no time for reflection.

  • They feel judged or guilty when they take a break to recover during work hours.

  • They are constantly observed and measured by software with random “productivity” parameters rather than output.

Autonomy and agency are the greatest predictors of happiness and productivity, overall well-being and digital well-being. Being able to decide how to work, how much time to spend working online or offline, blocking your own “deep work” time, and deciding the order in which you complete tasks improves your productivity and health.

What you can do: establish HR rules that take into account “deep work” – i.e. days free from meetings (Fridays are best so that work does not extend into the weekend). Forbid mutual meetings and establish a mandatory break of at least 15 minutes between them. Encourage people to only sign up for meetings when they really need to be present; AI notes can be used for the rest of meetings, and notes can be shared with all invited participants for key takeaways. As a guide, suggest the average number of meetings you want to attend.

People don’t unplug and feel they have to be “always on”

As working from home has become so common, leaders are feeling more stressed. They feel they are somehow obligated to stay, even if they allow their people to tune out, as if that were the mark of a good leader. Their families also often complain that they are always on. It’s no wonder that burnout rates among leaders (especially middle management) are currently at their highest.

Human brains work in cycles, so taking unplugged recovery breaks is essential for both well-being and performance.

What you can do: Help senior management understand the impact their behavior – i.e. sending emails outside of work hours – has on employees. Please take into account the rules regarding sending emails and communicating outside business hours – i.e. emails cannot be sent, otherwise they will be postponed to the next business day.

Employees are not present with others

At least one-third of employees multitask during meetings, and the longer the meeting and the more people involved, the more likely people are to start multitasking. Given that people cannot multitask but only quickly switch between tasks, time spent in meetings becomes highly unproductive, impacts performance and increases stress levels. But most importantly, it sends a message to participants that they don’t matter – whether it’s a big boss playing with gadgets or co-workers ignoring a young employee’s conversation.

The most extreme version of absenteeism is when employees join two online meetings at the same time, which is more common than you might think. This behavior undermines trust in online relationships. In fact, the mere presence of a smartphone during conversations has been shown to affect trust – the conversation is perceived as less intimate and the partner is less interested.

What you can do: Shorten and limit meetings to minimize the risk of multitasking. Some companies, like Amazon, are opting for device-free meetings.

They ignore their physical bodies

The WHO lists a sedentary lifestyle as the fourth largest factor in mortality. When we spend our days in front of screens, our bodies experience incredible stress – from heart problems to musculoskeletal problems. Going to the gym is great, but it doesn’t replace frequent standing breaks (preferably every 30 minutes). Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common injury occurring in the workplace. By 2050, about half of the world’s population will become nearsighted because we no longer train our eyes to look into the distance and instead focus on screens. Skipping meal breaks and eating in front of a screen contributes to obesity.

What you can do: Most importantly, help raise awareness of the link between physical well-being and cognitive abilities. While you can buy software to remind people to get up frequently, unless employees truly understand the consequences of not doing so, they won’t do it. Introduce gamified challenges where employees are encouraged to stand/move more often. Offer telephone meetings instead of video (at least face-to-face) where people can move around. Encourage employees to go outside during their lunch break to get some natural light. Buy yourself desks that can easily be converted into standing and ergonomic chairs.

Everything is urgent

The sense of “everything is urgent” is reinforced in several ways. First, in the digital world there will always be more information than we can digest. Every new email that arrives in your inbox creates the impression that you have to respond to it, which creates a sense of urgency and fragments your attention. Second, when other employees rush to respond to emails immediately because they are rewarded based on how much noise they make rather than on their performance, it puts pressure on everyone else.

The third factor contributing to urgency is when managers struggle with their own chaotic work patterns and constantly change their ideas. This lack of clear managerial priorities keeps employees always on alert and in standby mode. Research shows that simply waiting for a work-related email outside of work hours increases cortisol levels.

What you can do: Train employees, especially leaders, to clearly communicate deadlines and deliverables and have the right tools to do so. Some companies regulate what communication tools should be used for what purposes; for example, using Slack to resolve instant queries and send longer, more detailed responses via email.

Anastasia Dedyukhina is an author, keynote speaker and founder of Conscious Digital