Is Social Media Damaging Our Workplace Mental Health?

Is Social Media Damaging Our Workplace Mental Health?

These are unusual times and most people would agree that establishing and maintaining social connections are considered good for our mental health and wellbeing and for many of us our primary source for these is the workplace.  Whilst we make full use of video calling and virtual meetings, how important is social media and could it be causing more harm than good?

Over the last few years, there have been a number of articles and studies on the effect that social media is having on our mental health and the invasion of social media into the workplace.

Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety.

Ofcom carried out a recent study that found that 40% of adults look at their phone within 5 minutes of waking up; this climbs to 65% of adults under 35. And according to Ofcom, 34% of people say that they feel cut off or lost (29%) without the internet, with 17% finding it stressful.

Whilst currently most people are working from home our use of social media may replicate the usual pattern of commuters who spend their journeys entirely online, completing professional tasks (35%) or for personal use (42%), we are just using social media at different times, checking news bulletins, stock market reports or simply want to know more than ever how our friends and colleagues are spending their lockdown.

But is being so ‘plugged in’ detrimental to our overall mental health? In this article, we will explore whether social media is damaging our mental health in the workplace, and how and understanding of mental health through awareness courses workshops may help to address this.

The Impact Of Social Media On Mental Health

A man uses a tablet with the word 'connect' on, and social media icons

Social media has changed the way that we work completely. It has expanded the communication profession with new and immediate methods of interacting with clients, customers, stakeholders and colleagues. 

Professionals are engaging with clients and audiences in real-time conversations through channels such as  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Which alongside creating an ever more inclusive style of communication with businesses, and therefore creating more transparency between client and service – it also creates problems.

Employees must now learn how to deal with an almost overwhelming amount of potentially relevant information, from multiple sources. 

The boundaries between using our phones for personal and professional tasks is blurrier than ever and for many, this just doesn’t exist, and with this comes the risk of an invasion of work matter into the private domain of employees. 

Not only this but the use of social media to make businesses accessible almost 24/7 means that employees are experiencing ‘technostress’. This is a term coined by Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School. 

Cooper suggests that ‘constantly checking our phones and devices can result in ‘people overload’, diverting them from their job, and engaging us when we should be attempting to ‘switch off’ during non-working hours.

But the impact of social media is now stretching more deeply and broadly into our workplace. Many businesses function online in some capacity, operating a client relationship that is dependent on social communication and status updates to generate reputation, new connections and eCommerce. 

‘Many businesses focus on the risks to a company’s reputation from a misjudged tweet or status update, rather than an employee’s mental health’ suggests Paul McLaren – who works as a psychiatrist at Kent Priory Hospital.

Whilst many organisations have policies or guidelines to separate the use of personal phones or social media during working hours, many of the times the use of social media is a critical element of the role either directly or indirectly.

Therefore, the line between personal and professional use of social media is blurred, and this is contributing to a lack of concern towards the compulsive use of social media many of us display – and the impact on mental health.

  • 3.1 billion people use social media users globally
  • Daily averages use of social media is 116 minutes a day
  • On average, one person has can have 5.54 social media accounts

The prevalence of social media in our daily personal and professional lives has positive, but also negative, impacts on our mental health.

For example, studies have shown that Facebook has been linked to a decrease in ‘moment-to-moment happiness’ in its users; and lesser life satisfaction due to the often fabricated appearances of prominent social media influencers lifestyles and the constant appearance of ‘must-have’ products that promise to make users feel fulfilled. 

Social media as a platform has almost limitless opportunities for connectivity from a personal and professional perspective and at the moment many of us are craving that connection. However digital connections cannot replace the real connection with immediate face-to-face connections between friends and family.

Research showed that the more people in a study used Facebook, the more their real-life satisfaction decreased while interacting with people face-to-face did not create these same negative emotions.

There is a perceived level of ‘support’ that is derived from social media use, which has been suggested is different across genders and could partially account for the higher prevalence of ‘psychological distress among women’ such as depression and anxiety. 

How Can This Impact Mental Health In The Workplace?

A phone next to an open notebook on a white desk

Social media is now an essential channel in many workplaces, however, it can impact communications and dynamics between managers, employees and clients. It affects how businesses promote their reputation, and can also change how employees treat one another. 

In many cases, social media can be responsible for a blurred division between work and personal life.

This leads to ‘technostress’, which eventually impacts productivity and the overall wellbeing of employees and staff.

Several studies have linked this stress caused by social media and technology in the workplace can become associated with ‘role stress’. 

This a negative association where stress caused by extensive use, or availability to social connectedness even in simpler platforms, such as email – begins to add concepts of stress onto an employee’s role within a business.

But knowing how to manage how employees are using social media, recognising subsequent changes in behaviour and how this impacts mental health in the workplace can be difficult. 

This is where organisations like Mental Health at Work can be of assistance. Mental health awareness workshops are a crucial step if businesses want to maintain productivity while ensuring positive mental health in the workplace. 

In working to understand each organisation and the possible causes of stress caused by social media or technology, Mental Health at Work can develop a customised programme that explores and considers any role conflict and role overload experienced by employees and the options for that individual or organisation.

The WHO published a list of important factors when considering the impact of social media in the workplace:

  • Depression and anxiety have a large impact on the economy – the cost is around $1 trillion each year in lost productivity
  • Bullying and harassment at work through social media are commonly reported and negatively impact employee’s mental health
  • Work enjoyment actively improves mental health – but negative working environments lead to poor mental health
  • For every $1 invested in treatment for mental health, there is $4 returned in improved health and productivity

A good working environment is very dependent on a culture that actively supports open conversations regarding negative experiences of technology and social media.

This doesn’t change overnight, but a considered approach, built around a framework of Understand, Manage, Promote, we can ensure that everyone has the knowledge around mental health in the workplace, the skills to facilitate conversations around mental health, enabling steps to manage mental health and an ongoing programme of proactivity.

A mental health workshop, which is delivered in small groups either virtually or face to face,  can bring benefits for mental health, which extend far more broadly than social media, actively promoting a positive change in working environments to encourage employee engagement productivity, and ultimately success. 

Ensuring that use of social media is considered to ensure a balance between productivity and wellbeing can be one step in implementing a mental health programme in the workplace that ensures business success, while simultaneously ensuring that employees are not overloaded or negatively connected to colleagues via social media. If you would like to discuss how a mental health awareness course might benefit your business in promoting positive mental health in the workplace to improve working lives, then email team@mhaw.uk.com for a conversation.

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