Is too much “screen time” damaging your business (and your life)?

When you’re the parent of two boys aged 9 and 12, ‘screen time’ is a major issue.

If my youngest son had his own way, he’d spend almost every spare hour gaming on his Xbox console or, failing that, playing on his tablet.

My wife and I try to set sensible limits on the time he spends staring at a screen. His tablet ‘times out’ after a set period, meaning it can’t be used until the next day. We only allow him to play on the Xbox after school on a Friday and for a limited amount of time at the weekends.

Then, of course, there’s television. That’s probably the hardest one of all to set limits on.

All in all, unless you are careful, it’s very easy for your children to spend dozens of hours weekly staring at a screen. If you are working at home, it’s even more difficult to police – the temptation is to let them have extra time with their tablet or TV so you have peace and quiet enough to think.

The big problem, I think, is that each hour either child spends in front of a screen is an hour that they’re not interacting with other people, playing with friends, reading, building dens, role playing, drawing pictures, making models or the many other things that help them develop many more practical, social, academic and emotional skills.

This fact hit home a couple of weeks ago. When I picked up my youngest son from school, his teacher took me aside and told me about two unpleasant incidents my son had been involved in. I won’t go into details, but they certainly deserved to be punished.

So, after I had talked with my son about why his behaviour had been unacceptable, I told him that he would have no Xbox, no tablet and very limited television for a fortnight.

It was a smart move. Since then he has used his free time to draw, to read, to make things, to listen to audiobooks and more. He’s had to be more inventive, and he’s been much more fun to have around. Better still, his behaviour at school has improved hugely. His teachers are delighted.

And all of this because he’s spending very little of his time looking at a screen.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, it got me thinking about all the jobs I’ve hated in the past. They were the ones in which I spent nearly all day, every day stuck in front of a computer terminal doing work that, often, seemed to be needless and dictated by red tape. Doing that simply made me feel trapped, gave me eye strain and drained my enthusiasm and creativity.

That said, there were jobs I loved that also involved a lot of screen work. But they also involved regular trips out of the office, were characterised by strong teams that worked and socialised together and – above all – allowed me to see positive end results that I achieved in part by sitting at a PC writing emails, drafting documents, doing mailshots and more.

In my current work, I’ve also visited lots of office-based organisations.

Whenever I walk into one and see row after row of people staring at screens and barely communicating with each other, I try and find out what the staff turnover is. It’s usually extremely high.

In so many fields of business, it’s unavoidable that employees will spend much of their time in front of a screen.

If your business is one of them, it does pay to think about ways of giving your employees more variety. Even measures as simple as insisting that everyone takes a full hour for lunch and banning them from eating at their desk can pay major dividends. You’ll find people communicate better, are more motivated and inventive and above all, happier in their work. And when that happens, you not only have more chance of getting the best out of people, but your staff turnover may well decrease.

After all, if we know instinctively that too much screen time is bad for children, why don’t we accept that the same goes for people in the workplace.

If nothing else, surely it’s worth taking a few minutes away from this screen to think about?!

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