Shine Offline’s Laura Willis: ‘There’s no point giving people smoothies for wellbeing if you’re not looking at the causes of stress’

Ahead of her session at the CIPD Northern Ireland Conference, Laura Willis explains the importance of digital wellbeing in an ‘always-on’, flexible working world

Credit: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Co-founder of Shine Offline, Laura Willis, is no stranger to the dangers of not fostering positive digital wellbeing. Originally working as a freelance PR and marketing exec, Willis says she “couldn’t stop looking” at her work emails and she explains that this contributed to a period of poor mental health. As a result, she co-founded Shine Offline in 2016 – a company that develops digital wellbeing and management programmes for cross-sectorial organisations – as she believes “a lot of people go through this”.

Ahead of her closing keynote address at CIPD’s Northern Ireland Annual Conference, People Management picked her brains on what digital wellbeing at work is really all about.

What does digital wellbeing actually entail?

Laura Willis: Most people don't think about the impact of ‘being on’ all the time, and it’s only when we get them to stop and think about it that they realise. It’s not about tucking your devices away and then coming back to them, it’s about trying to understand your relationship with digital at work, and how we exist at work around our digital technology.

It's about using technology with purpose and being conscious of your behaviour. If you’re trying to get a remote team to stay engaged with each other, you need to understand that excessive ping-ponging back and forth of emails, or using instant messaging all day isn’t necessarily the best way to get people to work together as colleagues.

The great thing is that workplace wellbeing programmes are growing in popularity, but for us, there's no point getting people the Headspace app, introducing yoga and fruit if you’re not addressing what causes the stress in the first place, and a lot of the cause of stress at work is the inability to disconnect from technology and the feelings of being overwhelmed and overloaded that comes with this. There’s no point giving people smoothies for wellbeing if you’re not looking at what might cause their stress.

How is it different from general wellbeing?

LW: Digital wellbeing is anything to do with your relationship with your personal technology – social media, news feeds etc – but at work, it’s to do with all the tech you're using to do your job. General wellbeing covers physical and nutritional health and we would say that when businesses put together a wellbeing strategy, digital wellbeing should be one of the threads alongside financial, physical, mental and nutritional.

HR teams are now collaborating with IT to share manuals and hacks for Outlook and phones, so employees can feel more focused and present. It means people can use technology in a more balanced and controlled way.

Is there now more autonomy for workers to speak up when they need a break from technology?

LW: Autonomy is massive because energy and focus works differently for different individuals. Managers should be giving the trust and autonomy to employees to get on with jobs and be task-motivated – rather than being available on Teams all day, on ‘green’ and responding to emails instantly.

Many people feel they need to be ‘on’ and responding all day to prove they are working, but that isn’t their job: they’ve got actual work to do. It’s about building a culture of trust which you get from open dialogue and leaders looking at their own working patterns and digital behaviour to see if they are truly working efficiently.

Digital wellbeing isn’t going anywhere. It is going to become more central to our world and ensuring our employees are in control of their digital technology leads to a happy, healthier, more engaged workforce.

HR transformation and inclusive learning…more to come at the CIPD Northern Ireland Conference…

Join Laura as she closes the CIPD Northern Ireland Annual Conference in Belfast on 18 May, where she will be rounding off the day by talking about: Building healthy digital habits in today's always-on world.

This year's conference is entitled: People, workplaces and results – delivering for your organisation in times of change and will bring together speakers from local, national and international organisations to explore a range of topical issues. This includes: HR transformation and the future of work; hybrid working; financial wellbeing; collective voice; EDI; prioritising self-care to avoid burnout; and inclusive learning.

Lee Ann Pangea, head of the CIPD in Scotland and Northern Ireland said: "The CIPD Northern Ireland Conference is an excellent opportunity for people professionals to come together to learn from industry experts and connect with their peers. Last year was our biggest ever in-person conference in NI, with more than 300 attendees, and we hope to have even more people coming to join us at our 2023 conference."

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