In the modern era, smartphones and computers are essential gadgets. We use them to message family and friends, scroll through social media, read news articles on unfolding global events, and watch entertaining videos to relax and unwind.
So, it’s no surprise that – in the UK alone – people spend an average of 411 minutes (e.g. just under seven hours) per day glancing at screens.
There is also no hiding that, especially in the case of office jobs, work can contribute significantly to this impressive figure. From sending multiple emails to using digital software, we rely on digital devices more than ever in our professional lives. However, prolonged exposure to screens can harm our eyes and vision in the long run.
As a business owner or manager, one of your main responsibilities is to promote workplace well-being and ensure your team is as healthy as can be at all times – mentally and physically.
With some insights from Richard Holmes, director of well-being at Westfield Health, we explore the ins and outs of digital eye strain (DES) in this article, explaining how it can impact one’s health and how you can help your employees avoid its unpleasant consequences.
What is digital eye strain?
In a nutshell, digital eye strain is a type of eye fatigue that occurs if you look at a screen (i.e. computer, tablet, phone, etc.) for very long hours. Given that this is a common practice in many people’s routines, it is thought that one in two computer users (if not more) experiences DES regularly.
But why does it happen? Firstly, because glancing at a screen all day tires your eye muscles. Eye muscles must act directly on your lens to focus the eye and allow you to see your device properly. After a while, this will take a toll on your muscles and eventually lead to eye fatigue.
Moreover, looking at a digital screen can reduce your blink rate by up to 50%. Considering that blinking helps your eyes stay hydrated, any drop in its usual activity can cause a gritty, dry feeling that may, in turn, influence your vision and well-being.
The health consequences of digital eye strain
Employees are the pulsing heart of every company, so preserving your workers’ health is paramount. As mentioned, spending long hours in front of a digital screen, whether a laptop or a business phone, can have an array of unwanted consequences on your staff’s well-being.
So, to determine whether digital eye strain is wearing your people, here are a few signs and symptoms you may want to look out for.
- Headaches and migraines – Digital eye strain can foster strong headaches and migraines, often triggered by screens’ glare and light flickering. A common headache after long hours of screen exposure is the so-called ocular (or retinal) migraine, which can cause flashing and wavy lines, blind spots, and even temporary blackouts in your vision.
- Neck and back pain – While this symptom isn’t directly correlated to digital eye strain, neck and back pain is an unfortunate side effect of spending long hours in front of a screen. Poor posture is usually to blame for this type of problem. Bear in mind that, if not fixed in a timely fashion, neck and back pain can deteriorate and become a chronic condition that requires medical attention.
- Disrupted sleep pattern – Digital screens emit blue light, which can interfere massively with your natural sleep cycle. Blue light stimulates areas of the brain that make you feel awake and alert, accelerating your heart rate and elevating your body temperature. It also suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that spurs feelings of drowsiness and sleepiness. Therefore, staring at screens all day – and especially up to a couple of hours before bedtime – can affect the length and quality of your sleep, meaning that you may not feel rested, refreshed, and energised the following morning.
How to prevent digital eye strain in your workers
As well as hindering their mental and physical condition, digital eye strain can also have a negative impact on your people’s efficiency and productivity levels.
You cannot escape using tablets, phones, and computers for prolonged hours in some professions. But as a business owner or manager, you can take several simple steps to tackle the risks of digital eye strain in your employees and nip the problem in the bud.
Few tips you may want to consider
- Remind your employees about the importance of eye care – This is one of the quickest and easiest things you could do – and possibly one of the most effective. Make sure to send out emails regularly that remind your people about the benefits of booking appointments with an optician or ophthalmologist. If your workers’ job description includes using digital devices, it’s your duty as an employer to pay for any eyesight test they may need.
- Set up appropriate computer ergonomics – To minimise stress on your employees’ eyes, provide them with adequate work-setting ergonomics. When it comes to preventing DES, specifically, the most important factor is the distance of the eyes from the digital screen. So, arrange your people’s workstations so that the computer screen (or any other digital device) is 18 to 30 inches from their eyes.
- Encourage people to take regular screen breaks – Another simple yet excellent way to help staff reduce eye strain is to encourage them to get away from their screens occasionally. Encourage them to go for a short walk, grab a cup of tea or coffee, and rest their eyes for a few minutes. It may not seem much, but brief breaks allow people to refresh, blink normally, and rehydrate their eyes.
- Promote eye exercises – To help combat eye strain, you may introduce some eye workouts that your employees can practice throughout their workday. For example, the so-called 20:20:20 rule is a useful technique that consists in looking away from your screen every 20 minutes and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Alternatively, occasionally, get your colleagues to pick a point on the floor and trace an imaginary ‘eight’ with their eyes. Both exercises can help relax eye muscles and, in turn, prevent DES.
Digital eye strain is a common side effect of spending long hours in front of a screen, and it tends to affect many employees who use computers daily. From migraines to disrupted sleep cycles, DES can have a detrimental impact on people’s lives – both personal and professional.
As an employer, taking care of your people and preserving their well-being is important. Luckily, there are several tricks you can embrace to limit the perils of digital eye strain, including promoting eye exercises, encouraging regular breaks, and setting up appropriate workstations.
Ultimately, these are all handy steps to help spare your staff from an avoidable, unpleasant issue.