Is social media harming mental health and productivity?

David Price outlines how social media addiction can affect wellbeing and productivity.

In the last 15 years, there's been an explosion in the way in which people connect with the world and organise their social lives. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have made the world feel like a much smaller place. Everything and everyone is accessible immediately, and seeking of affirmation through likes, and the fear of missing out, can be relentless.

What is social media addiction?

Research published in the Journal of Addiction and Research Therapy suggests that excessive use of social media can be defined as an addiction, in the same way as dependence on drugs or alcohol is. It can trigger similar responses from the brain, and cause similar symptoms, such as anxiety. And while it might not have the same detrimental physical effects as alcoholism, for example, it can have a huge effect on the user’s mental health.

Social media tends to be carefully curated by the user. When someone creates a post, they can spend a long time framing and editing an image, writing about how good their life is, and timing it to reach as many followers as possible. When bombarded with this constant demand for perfection, many people report dents to their self-esteem.

Impact in the workplace

Beyond the mental health dangers of social media addiction, it can cause problems in the workplace. Time spent curating and editing posts and images, and scrolling, can be one of the biggest killers of productivity during the working day, and someone may be spending more time thinking of what to post about their day, or what others are posting, than working.

The first thing to ensure is that your company has a clear policy in place which outlines that, for example, accessing social media at work is not permitted, and the consequences of doing so.

Then ask yourself, and your employees, a few questions:

  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media?
  • Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
  • Do you often try to reduce your use of social media without success?
  • Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job?

If the answer to more than a few of these is ‘yes,’ it might be worth organising a one-on-one chat about how they can curb their social media use at work.

About the author

David Price is CEO of Health Assured, a provider of health and wellbeing solutions. He advises employers on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, while outlining best-practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress.