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The Toll of Digital Work - 3 Ways to Support Teams




Think of the last time you logged off social media because you needed a break. It's a luxury most can afford. But, what if working in the digital world is literally in your job description? Right now, countless talented and committed individuals return day after day to potentially hazardous online environments without the protective gear and support system we'd expect if it were a physical space.


This is not sustainable without a plan.


I'm talking about the negative impact of daily exposure to the toxicity and vitriol characteristic of so many online channels and communities that can have a negative impact on one's mental health if gone unchecked.


There was a time not too long ago when I was on social media all day, several days a week running campaigns. I can't imagine doing that today. Maybe I've hit my limit. Maybe I'm just tired. But I don't miss it. Not right now.

In reality, the responsibilities of social media typically fall on the shoulders of one, maybe two skilled individuals at an organization. This can be deeply rewarding work filled with autonomy and visibility but also soul-crushing isolation when having to face the beast alone.

Right now, we're at a crossroads where unless managers prioritize mental health for their teams when it comes to supporting their daily digital responsibilities including news consumption, social media, etc., we could see massive burnout or worse. I'm not sure that many programs currently exist at organizations specifically designed to hold space for this conversation. I see this as a huge opportunity to create something truly unique.

If we've learned anything, it's that regular exposure to negative conversations can be stressful at best and traumatic at their worst, and can compound to have long-lasting impacts on our physical and mental health.

But, what if working in social media is your day job and you can't simply log off?

So, what can we do? Design a support program at the individual, team, and organization level with a few communications best practices and a lot of senior leadership (and HR) support! Because we all interact with the digital world (e.g, via social media), we all have insights to share and even if it's not our "day job," that doesn't mean we can't add value to the conversation. If at the end of the day, one person feels like they have the support they need (be it from their manager or colleagues) and empowered to ask for help, it's worth it.


Here are three steps to help you create a digital support program at your organization:


  1. Schedule a Check-In Session - If you manage someone on your team who has digital responsibilities (e..g, communications, and marketing teams, but also internal communications and sales teams are where to start), schedule a one-on-one check-in session asap. There is no conversation more important for these individuals right now who may not have felt empowered to reach out. You may find they are fine and using their own self-prescribed boundaries and time management. This is why creating a standing meeting (start with monthly) is so important as things may change. The conversation should focus on getting a sense of the impact (positive and negative) social media is having on them. This is not the place to talk about KPIs. Talk about self-care (maybe there's something you do when interacting online), share boundary-setting ideas, and time management techniques. Ask if they need a break – and be prepared to support their answer. Work with senior leaders and HR to make this check-in required for the appropriate positions.

  2. Build a Community of Support - One strategy you can use to help build and sustain the program is by creating communities of support where knowledge, experiences, resources can be shared easily across teams. Schedule group "brown bag" sessions where anyone at your org is invited over lunch or coffee. Use online software like Slack, which is an excellent platform where creating group conversations is easy, and where employees may feel more inclined to share their ideas organically and overtime.

  3. Communicate Your Efforts - Right now, you have the opportunity to build solidarity across your organization by simply letting them know they have your support. Work with your internal communications team (if you have one), or consultant, HR, and senior leadership to create a strategy to roll out clear, concise, and consistent messaging to reinforce your commitment to their mental health. Consider launching your program at your next all-staff or company town hall – just be sure to provide time for Q&As.

If we've learned anything, it's that regular exposure to negative conversations can be stressful at best and traumatic at their worst, and can compound to have long-lasting impacts on our physical and mental health.

I'm having check-in conversations right now with partners and they are illuminating and refreshing. Personally, I feel like I'm not so alone as I try to take care of my own mental health, online and off.


Reach out if this resonates, and let's connect. If you're looking for regular insights and tools, connect with me on LinkedIn and @jpaynebu on Twitter.


Until then, please be safe and be well.