Is there anything social media can’t do? It helps us connect with long-lost family and friends, keep up with current events, share news, follow our favorite celebrities, and find that must-try recipe that everyone’s talking about.
But while it connects us with one another superficially, social media rarely lets us connect in meaningful ways. That’s why it seems the more we use social media, the less happy we become—with social media leading to increased feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and loneliness.
This lowered happiness can easily spill over into the workplace, making it important for corporate wellness programs to address social media use and the negative effects it can have.
Here are five ways wellness programs can help employees keep their focus on health and happiness and offset the damaging effects of excessive social media use.
Take a Break
In just the month of July 2012, Americans spent an astounding 2 million hours on social networking sites. Knowing what we know about social media and happiness, it’s no surprise that these extended sessions can cause decreased self-esteem and increased symptoms of depression. And for the 77% of employees who use social media at work, productivity and creativity also suffer: 20% of these employees report they work fewer than five hours a day.
It’s understandably hard for employees to resist the impulse to check social media if they work on computers all day long. A good challenge would be for employees to try out apps that limit social media access and other distracting websites. SelfControl, for example, is a free application for Mac users that blocks user-specified websites for up to 24 hours. These self-imposed breaks can help employees become more aware of their own social media habits while also increasing productivity and improving mood.
Loneliness may not be officially recognized as a chronic illness, but there’s no doubt it affects the physical and mental health of more than 60 million Americans. Unfortunately, the virtual friendships many employees maintain online do little to improve feelings of isolation. It’s real-life social support that’s needed to reduce the effects of loneliness on health.
To help employees develop that support, challenge workers to have meaningful conversations with a designated number of neighbors, co-workers, friends, and more each month. These conversations with others and strong social networks—not superficial “likes” on social media—are what help people become happier overall, better cope with stress, lower their cardiovascular risk, and promote healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Change the Tone
Social media can be delightful, with fun discussions among friends, sharing of hilarious videos, and eye-opening insights into the lives of other people. It can also be a cesspool of negativity, trolling, and incessant political arguments.
As tempting as it is to spend hours on social media engaging in heated discussions, the result—stress, anger, frustration—just isn’t worth it. Employers should encourage employees to ask themselves, “Is this making me happy?” when using social media. Challenges focusing on positivity, gratitude, and kindness can help steer employees away from the more negative aspects of social media, improving their mental well-being.
Help Employees Shut Down
Some employees find it relaxing to check Facebook or Instagram right before going to sleep, and a stunning one in three people checks their phone in the middle of the night. But what seems to be a relaxing activity actually stimulates cognitive function and makes it harder to go to sleep (and then function at peak performance the next day). Plus, the “glow” associated with electronic devices negatively affects the quality of a night’s sleep by delaying the release of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Encourage employees to take regular breaks from their devices. Start by challenging them to turn off their devices at least one hour before bedtime, eliminating the light that miscues the brain. Doing so can not only help them fall asleep faster and improve their quality of sleep, but it can also improve mood, focus, and concentration while at work. Another way to help with this? Avoid sending them emails outside of office hours. This will eliminate any pressure they feel to check their phones during the wee hours of the night.
Focus on Protection
While interacting with others on social media has become a big part of your employees’ and their families’ lives, it’s important to remember that fraudsters, predators, and scams abound. At best, they’re looking to capture your personal information; at worst, predators are using geotags on pictures or using social media chats to find and approach potential victims.
Host lunch and learns or record webinars that educate employees on the power and risks of social media and encourage responsible social media use. It’s also important to sponsor informational sessions for employees’ families, educating them on cyberbullying and online predators.
It may seem ironic, but for many employees, the more time they spend on “social” sites, the more isolated they perceive themselves to be. But they don’t have to feel alone when they have the mood-lifting resources of a robust wellness program at their disposal.
Using employee wellness programs to counteract the effects of isolation on physical and mental health is an easy way to help engage employees, increase productivity, and improve overall happiness. Get your wellness program off to a great start with our free book, 102 Challenges.