Five signs your workplace is 'digitally toxic' – and what to do about it

It’s tempting to assume that if your job lets you work remotely, it must be a wonderful setup with all sorts of flexibility and a healthy work-life balance.

But that’s not always the case.

A working-from-home option can hide a number of sins – or allow new unhealthy behaviours to appear.

This, says Rex Fan, the lead behavioural insights advisor for Bupa UK, is ‘digital toxicity’ – when a toxic workplace shows up through online means.

Ahead, Rex breaks down some key signs of a digitally toxic workplace – and how we can deal with them.

You’re always expected to be available

Noticed your working hours have gone out the window, and that Slack messages, emails, and even Whatsapps, come in at every moment of the day?

We shouldn’t accept or normalise this.

‘If you spot emails being sent to you outside of your contracted working hours, you may feel this implies that you’re expected to do the same,’ Rex tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Having healthy boundaries between your working life and life outside of work is essential, but it’s also hard to define if it’s not something already encouraged within your workplace.

‘Clearly signify to yourself and others when you are and aren’t working by blocking out your lunch hour in your calendar, logging off, switching off your work phone and stepping away from your workstation at the same time each day. You can also schedule focus or project time into the calendar.

‘As it’s easy to prioritise meetings in your diary, planning out certain times for projects makes sure that project work gets done.

‘Make time to do something you enjoy every day, like going for a brisk walk around the block, reading a chapter of a book or following an online yoga routine – you could even encourage your colleagues to do the same. These habits will lay the groundwork for good wellbeing, reinforcing that it’s ok to take time for yourself when you’re not working.’

There’s never time for chit-chat

‘While it’s important to get the job done, it’s also important to build good relationships with your colleagues to help strengthen your bonds,’ Rex notes.

If you can’t remember the last time you had a chat with your co-workers, whether over Slack or Zoom, that’s something worth rectifying.

Rex offers a solution: ‘Regular catchups with your team, where work matters aren’t necessarily the core focus, help define an open culture where you can express yourself, achievements and concerns more openly.

‘You can also consider opening team calls a few minutes early so those who fancy a chat can do so.

‘Finally, if you feel comfortable, try introducing a social club within your team so people can get to know one another better outside of work time.’

You’re being bombarded with video calls

A lot of workplaces dealt with a departure from the physical office by seriously upping the number of video calls.

That’s not a bad thing… to a point.

Too many video calls can disrupt productivity and make you feel like you’re being constantly observed. Plus, frequent video calls rid you of a major benefit of working from home: not having to be all dolled up.

‘Collaborating is the best way to make the most of your working days but sitting on unnecessary calls – especially where you’re expected to be on camera – can be harmful to your wellbeing over time,’ says Rex.

‘The expectation to present yourself constantly, such as over video calls, is tiring, meaning you’ve not got the time to reset and focus on other tasks.

‘Furthermore, video calls can also be a lot more intense, as your brain must work harder to decode non-verbal cues.

‘If you feel that too many video calls hinder your productivity, speak to your manager about making more use of other ways to collaborate, like shareable documents and in-person catchups, where possible.

‘Additionally, if you find that your videocalls tend to be back-to-back in your diary, consider scheduling your meetings to stop a couple of minutes earlier to give yourself a breather and a chance to reset and move.’

You don’t feel listened to

‘Whether your meetings are held virtually or face-to-face, everyone has the right to be listened to in the workplace,’ Rex tells us. ‘Companies with inclusive cultures empower all employees to share their views, as they know that wider contributions can lead to valuable changes over time.

‘If you’re not the loudest person in the room, it can feel like you’re being ignored, knocking your self-confidence – especially when you know you have some good ideas.

‘If you feel comfortable, try to raise this with your manager in your one-to-one meetings to help create a culture shift. It can also be useful to read up on confidence building strategies to help get your voice heard.

‘You can also suggest to your manager to encourage the use of the team chat in video calls as a place for all to chip into conversations.

‘Also, try to encourage smaller online gatherings, so the pressure is off having to speak up in a big team environment – this may be particularly helpful if you’re a quieter person.’

You’re being micromanaged

Another way many bosses have overcorrected the issues thrown up by leaving the physical office: upping the communication so much that it feels smothering.

‘With remote working, your manager may be more tempted to check in on what you’re doing each day, resorting to serial direct messaging or emailing,’ Rex notes.

‘Micromanagement can take its toll on you mentally, impacting your motivation and confidence, as well as breeding paranoia that you’re not capable enough to do your job independently.’

If you’re being micromanaged, don’t just put up with the stress it adds to your day. It’s very possible your boss has no idea of the impact of their (likely well-meaning) actions, so it’s well worth bringing up the issue.

Rex says: ‘Everyone should feel trusted and supported to get on with their work – try speaking to your manager about introducing regular one-to-one sessions, if you don’t have them already, where you can air how their management style is impacting you – they may not even realising they’re doing it.

‘When speaking to your manager, try to begin sentences with “I feel” instead of “you make me feel” so avoid the chance of conflict, allowing you to monitor the situation and come to a resolution together.

‘If nothing comes of talking to your manager, speak to your HR team, as they’re trained to support you in matters like these.’

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