In 2016, GSMA Intelligence estimated that there are 4.7 billion people using SIM cards – that’s just under two-thirds of the world’s population. In the next five years in the Asia Pacific region we could find over 60% of the population (2.6 billion people) subscribing to mobile services. And while three-quarters of this ownership currently comes from China, Japan and India, the trend is shifting Southeast with Indonesia and other countries now becoming major contributors.
Clearly technology has enormous benefits across many industries, not least healthcare. But what problem areas should we be aware of, and how might that impact our workforces?
Because technology addiction is a growing problem. It affects health, and it affects productivity. So let’s look at some of the key technological developments and what kind of impact they are having on staff as well as our organisations as a whole.
The internet: There is a growing band of evidence that suggests web addiction has far-reaching psychological effects. A hypertext environment encourages multi-tasking behaviour, which in turn makes us more distracted throughout the working day. We have shifted towards shallow modes of learning whereby we ‘scan read’ and contemplate less. This in turn may be directly altering the structure of our brains.
A hypertext environment encourages multi-tasking
behaviour, which in turn makes us more distracted
throughout the working day.
A 2015 literature review by Lin and Lei, found that a wealth of structural MRI studies showed internet addiction was associated with deficits in both the brain’s processing centres (grey matter) and connections (white matter). What this means for any organisation is that a deeper understanding of how we work (and think) will need to be taken into consideration when it comes to working habits and productivity – and establishing work environments accordingly.
And to be clear, this is no Western problem. In 2015, a survey by Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communications found that one quarter of internet users spent between 42 and 77 hours on the internet each week. But because we have this knowledge, there is an opportunity for the region to get ahead of the problem.
Smartphones and tablets: The hand-held nature of smartphones also makes them an even greater risk to our physical health. They may be quite literally driving us to distraction. In the US, a 2013 study by the National Safety Council (NSA) estimated that 1.7% of drivers on the road are texting at any given moment. This causes between 6-16% of all car crashes, which is nothing compared to people talking on their phones which accounts for 21% of accidents. This is something to keep in mind when staff are commuting to/from work or are driving as part of their job.
In the US, a 2013 study by the National Safety
Council (NSA) estimated that 1.7% of drivers on the road
are texting at any given moment.
But it doesn’t end there: What is really important here is the effect this has on our posture. Staring at a phone puts a repetitive and unnatural strain on the neck and back. ‘Text Neck’ is now at epidemic proportions according to a study by Assumption University of Thailand. Over 40% of users felt small twinges of pain while using a smartphone, a further 10% felt pain constantly. Given that musculoskeletal disorders are a leading reason for both absenteeism and rising overall healthcare costs, this must be addressed early before the impact on business becomes too great.
Laptops and desktop computers: In the same Thai study, over 20% of desktop computer users were also found to be in some kind of neck or back pain. This will come as little surprise to many of us who spend hours each day sitting in front of a laptop or desktop computer. According to the Herbalife Nutrition at Work survey, nine out of 10 workers in Asia Pacific spend at least six hours each day at their desk. This kind of inactivity, where we stare at a computer screen for hours and move a mouse (but not much else) is clearly not good for health. In South Korea, there has been a dramatic shift to a more sedentary lifestyle since the turn of the millennium. The effects on health have been equally dramatic, including increased rates of obesity and so a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
Even when we arrive home and clamber into bed, technology is still with us. Research by InMobi in 14 countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and China, tells us that roughly 80% of smartphone and laptop owners use them while lying in bed. The artificial light from the screens appears to be playing havoc with our normal sleep patterns. Research by Brown University in the US suggests more sustained digital media use within two hours of bedtime reduces sleep time and leaves us more tired and stressed the next working day.
Television and gaming: When we don’t have a smart device or a computer mouse in hand, many turn to the TV remote or PlayStation controller. A survey by WiseApp recently found that the average smartphone user in South Korea spends 43 minutes each day just playing games. Meanwhile, Asean DNA research showed the average Filipino, Thai or Indonesian will spend 20 hours each week watching TV – those are among the highest numbers for any country worldwide. Our decision to choose techno-led inactivity even in our spare time further raises our risk of health issues. In fact, a study by Harvard University revealed that cutting back the amount of TV watched significantly reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature death – this conclusion was reached by looking at not just lack of physical exercise but the dangers of being sedentary for long periods of time.
Asean DNA research showed the average Filipino,
Thai or Indonesian will spend 20 hours
each week watching TV – those are among the
highest numbers for any country worldwide.
Technology has brought clear benefits to businesses and institutions around the world. But companies should be aware of costs. Losses from physical inactivity and poor productivity are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. These figures will be especially alarming to businesses paying insurance premiums. Unhealthy workers cost more, especially when it comes to health insurance, extra days off work, and poor productivity when behind the desk.
Talking of productivity, things get worse if we take into account the distraction technology affords. In 2017, the average employee can expect to receive or send 120 emails each day. Research by Microsoft tells us that every work interruption is met with a 10 minute downtime before resuming a task. Incredibly, staff check their email an average of four times every hour. On top of this, in the UK, comparison website Expert Market suggests that workers spend one hour each day using their smartphone when they should be working. On average, this addiction is costing businesses nearly USD 4,000 per worker each year.
Taking back control
So there you go. As big as the benefits of technology have been, there are clear health and financial costs we should consider. As individuals and as corporations we must start taking back control over the technology in our lives.
In fact, some companies are already doing so by enforcing tech-downtime and reducing the demand for employees to be contactable when at home with their families. In Thailand, a business in Bangkok with over 50 employees is required by law to offer a wellbeing programme, which can pull people away from the keyboard and onto a treadmill, maybe even out into the fresh air. Whether it’s education or exercise, awareness programmes or wellness initiatives, there is much the employer can do to tackle these issues before they become a major problem on the health, happiness and productivity of the workforce.