The Case Against Working Harder: Digital Eye Strain and its dire consequences on your productivity


In today’s frantic world that prioritises productivity over almost everything else, many of us have adopted the philosophy that we should spend hours on end at our screens for fear of losing precious moments of productivity. 

However, one commonly overlooked consequence of staring at screens for too long may actually be hurting your efficiency to such an extent that it pays dividends to sacrifice short-term productivity and give your eyes a break.

Eye strain is at the heart of productivity loss.

The growing problem of digital Eye Strain (DES) is at the heart of this loss of productivity, and it now affects up to 20% of children and as many as 90% of university students and is particularly prevalent in adults who use computers and device screens professionally.

One study found that 90% of the working population in the US who use computers for 3 or more hours a day develop DES! Those who spend three or more hours on screens per day are at a whopping 13-fold greater risk, showing just how much even small amounts of excessive screen time can affect your eyes.

Symptoms of DES include eye irritation, burning, dryness, redness, sensitivity to light and a loss of the eye’s ability to focus correctly, resulting in blurred vision and headaches.  

The productivity loss associated with the condition is staggering, with research showing that the economic costs related to the management and treatment of dry eye are US$3.84 billion annually in the United States alone. At an individual level, people with DES take, on average, 20% more time to complete tasks, so you really aren’t helping your productivity, or the economy, by spending hours glued to your computer or smart device.

So what about those of us who cannot avoid spending hours on screens each day? Is there anything we can do to reduce our risks?

Solutions for a ‘strain-free’ digital life

The answer, thankfully, is yes. Below is a quick guide on how to manage a digital life strain-free.

Some quick ergonomics tricks to fight DES

  1. Taking regular breaks in between periods of screen exposure: the American Optometric Association recommends taking a 15-minute break after 2 hours of device use. Observing the 20-20-20 strategy (looking at objects 20 feet away for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen time) has also been shown to be an effective strategy for preventing DES.
  2. Limiting smart device screen time and engaging in more outdoor activity: It is recommended that children spend 2 to 3 hours outdoors per day to maintain good eye health. This may also reduce their risk of developing myopia.
  3. Increasing text size to reduce squinting of the eyes while using devices.
  4. Reducing overhead lighting and using anti-glare screens to reduce screen glare.
  5. Adequate face-to-screen distance when using devices: It is recommended that smart devices are held at least 30cm from the face, while there should be at least 60cm of distance between the face and computer screens.
  6. Location of screen: A screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level is recommended

DES is unequivocally a pervasive problem in the workplace. As working adults, we have the professional obligation to work behind our screens daily. At Plano, we believe that it is every company’s responsibility to create a culture of healthy screen engagement to ensure that their employees’ eyes are well taken care of.

How we can help

For this very reason, we are proud to have developed our  plano@work consultancy programme which brings vision health to companies and industries across Singapore. Each specially tailored workshop aims to empower participants in 4 key ways: 1) increasing productivity and reducing sick leave, 2) increasing knowledge on the nature and management of DES, 3) improving the working environment and greater job satisfaction and 4) improving staff retention and employer-employee relationship.

Let’s stop putting unduly blame on technology for our eye health issues. As I often say, it is our tendency to form unhealthy relationships with technology that needs to be addressed. It is only then we can enjoy all the benefits they offer without having to suffer the strain of avoidable screen-related health problems!

Our research team has compiled the most up-to-date data about DES. Access the full report here.

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