Companies should think beyond traditional health care benefits and consider social media’s impact on employees’ well-being.
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Almost every large organization is trying to get employees to adopt healthful habits. Managers have long known that healthier employees are more productive, loyal, and, frankly, less expensive, given that healthy behaviors can lead to lower health care costs. Given the steeply rising cost of providing health insurance benefits, more companies have experimented with paying employees to start healthy habits. Adobe’s wellness reimbursement program compensates employees up to $360 each year for gym memberships, bike-share programs, fitness classes, massages, nutritional counseling, and more. Google has gone so far as to build out most of these amenities directly onsite at its main campuses.
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These organizations have a promising opportunity to broaden the types of wellness efforts in which they’re investing. Existing programs’ definitions of “healthy habits” are generally woefully limited to “diet and exercise.” While physical activity and nutrition are surely two significant factors affecting health (and insurance-related expenses to self-funded employers), such a narrow view misses myriad lifestyle choices we make every day that drastically affect our health. Social media use continues to be an ever more salient example.
A growing body of research confirms that the joys of social media come with drawbacks directly related to well-being, including disrupted sleep patterns, heightened anxiety, and increased depression. Managers can’t shove this aside by categorizing employees’ online activity as starkly unrelated to work. Depression is the leading cause of disability inside and outside of the workplace, and rising generations of employees are particularly susceptible to health issues fueled by social media use.
New Research on Social Media Deactivation
To see the value of nudging employees to think carefully about how they use social media, consider a recent experiment conducted by researchers at Stanford and New York University, which found that paying participants about $100 to deactivate Facebook for four weeks reduced their overall online activities, increased their offline activities, and increased mental health measurements.
The research team recruited over 2,000 participants through Facebook ads, asking them baseline questions about their well-being, and had half of them deactivate their profiles. When the researchers checked back in with the participants about their well-being and their time use after a month, the results were striking: There were significant improvements in well-being, in particular in self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety, among the deactivators.
Overall, deactivation improved participants’ social well-being scores by 0.0