We are now living in a world where digital devices are arguably as essential to humans as the common basic needs. In this day and age, if you ask every person in a room about which specific item can they live without, every single one of them would probably answer the same thing: their mobile phone.

Powered by the internet, our mobile phones, tablets, or laptops can essentially do everything from finding directions to putting every information we need at our fingertips. As technology continues to advance at a considerable speed, the list of digital uses keeps getting longer and with it comes our increased reliance on these devices.

Since the pandemic hit, this reliance on technology has been further magnified as we turned to digital devices to cope with social distancing measures, ensure business continuity, and deliver services. Office employees, in particular, were then bound to learn how to work on multiple platforms, attend endless virtual meetings, and sometimes render longer work hours to get everything done at work. Outside-office hours or during break times, many are still depending on devices to check the news, connect with loved ones, and even just entertain themselves with games, shows, and the like.

With these unprecedented changes in the way we operate, more and more employees are now finding themselves staring at a screen longer than they realize.

What is Digital Fatigue?

It is common knowledge that too much of anything can be bad for us, and digital tools are no exception. When used excessively, one of the many possible negative effects that one may experience is digital fatigue—a state of mental exhaustion and disengagement after using digital tools and applications for a prolonged period1.

If you are an employee whose nature of a job requires you to sit in front of a computer to get all work done, and whose phone is the first and last thing you face after waking up and before going to bed, then there is a high chance that you may be experiencing this digital fatigue. Not sure about that? Here are the common signs and symptoms1 that you must watch out for.

  • Sore, tired, burning, or itching eyes
  • Headaches
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by the repetitive nature of your day
  • Displaying snappy or irrational behaviour

In a nutshell, digital fatigue can lead to a lack of energy, mental clarity, and burnout and can cause negative psychological and physical effects on our overall well-being2. It goes without saying that the quality of work output can subsequently get affected.

How to prevent digital fatigue?

Our devices have clearly become an integral part of today's new normal, and this dire need for these tools in our personal and professional lives is here to stay and expected to persist for the long haul. Despite the possible consequences of our over-reliance on these tools, there are ways that we can do to prevent digital fatigue and make our devices work for us, not against us. Try to incorporate the following tips into your everyday work routine:

  1. Don't multi-task. Focus your attention and efforts on using one app or platform at a time when working. If you are attending a virtual meeting, for instance, resist the urge to check your email or any other notifications that pop up on your screen. Not only will this help you practice good etiquette and respect towards your colleagues, but you can also focus on the meeting itself. To help you avoid distractions, close any tabs or programs unrelated to the current task at hand, put your phone away, and stay present.
  2. Take mini-breaks. Include regular screen breaks of about 10 to 15 minutes to give your eyes and brain a chance to recharge. Take note that this break is meant for you to be away from the screen, so grabbing your phone and scrolling through your social media is not a wise decision. Use this break to relax or have some quick stretch or stroll around the house (if you're working from home) or office instead.
  3. Limit video conferences. We are already attending endless virtual meetings nowadays, and a new unnecessary invitation is the last thing we want to see in our email. Before you schedule yet another virtual meeting, ask yourself: Is this meeting really necessary? And if so, do all these people really need to be on the call? On the other hand, if you are one of the invited participants, know the meeting agenda and see whether you are really needed in that meeting. If not, courteously ask the organizer if you can be excluded from the list of participants. For simple concerns, consider communicating it through email or phone calls, if possible.
  4. Work only during work hours as much as possible. Now that the boundary between home and work is blurred, especially for employees doing remote work, it's suddenly too easy to work longer hours than usual. Unless what you're working on is urgent, try to continue unfinished tasks in the next working day and step away from your computer when it's already past your shift.
  5. Utilize non-digital tools for simple tasks. The notepads in our mobile phones or laptops can come in handy whenever we need to note the important points of the meeting. But going old-school and using a good old-fashioned pen and paper to take notes instead would be a better option if you want to build additional short breaks into your work routine. Utilizing your desk calendar and conventional calculator can also help when you need to check your schedule or do a simple computation.
  6. Engage in screen-free activities after work. You are already devoting several hours of your time staring at a large screen at work and choosing to fiddle with your phone or tablet after a long day is just too much of a screen time all in all. Do activities such as working out, reading, listening to an audiobook, cooking a meal, or any other activities that will allow you to relax and take a break away from any form of screen.
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  1. https://www.growthinmotion.co.za/digital-fatigue/
  2. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/358112)
  3. https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue