Technology has suddenly spawned new, global work realities: imprisonment by screens and a powerful erosion of the line between now always-on “work” and “life.” And assembled experts agreed that we have not yet begun to grasp the wide-ranging impact on employees’ physical and mental health…and productivity.

Shawn LaVana, head of marketing, Virgin Pulse

Shawn LaVana, head of marketing, Virgin Pulse

As Shawn LaVana, head of marketing, Virgin Pulse, noted, “We’re checking our smartphones 150 times a day—how focused can we really be? All of this time in front of screens, for work and in our personal lives, means we’re not exercising and eating well, and all of this feeds into a vicious cycle of poor health choices. These are negative habits we’ve built, but we can build positive habits in the same way.”

James Brewer, workspace consultant, Steelcase, added, “The disintegration of work-life boundaries is also being driven by globalization. When you have teams distributed worldwide, you have new realities like workers having to virtually collaborate with colleagues and business partners in the middle of the night.”

Brewer also noted that there seems to be a dichotomy in policy approaches to work-life balance between small “startups” and the larger, more-established companies. Smaller startups appear to be more proactive in implementing policies that help their employees define when it is okay to “turn it off” and disconnect (i.e., no email in the evening or work-free vacations). These types of policy approaches are largely absent in larger organizations.

The roundtable agreed that if we ask whether technology has freed or trapped us, the answer is firmly the latter. Paul Terry, CEO and president, Staywell, noted that “resilience” and “high-performance cultures” may now just be colloquialisms for “high-endurance cultures.”

In the future, tackling the health enemy of 24/7 work and hyper-connectivity (and the many under-researched ways a screen-focused and sedentary work-life are hurting worker health) will be a much more powerful workplace wellness focus. “Productivity” itself will be redefined.

AuthorBeth McGroarty, Director of Research, GWI