How Notifications and Alerts Can Affect Workplace Wellbeing

What is workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing is an area of employee health that is gaining more and more attention from businesses. And there’s a good reason for this: happier, healthier employees are more productive, have more energy and are absent less.

But what exactly is workplace wellbeing? Workplace wellbeing is all about creating a healthy and supportive environment for employees. This includes:

By investing in workplace wellbeing, businesses can create a happier, healthier workforce that is more engaged and productive.

There are many ways to promote workplace wellbeing, such as offering flexible work hours, providing access to wellness programs, and creating a supportive work environment. By making small changes, businesses can create a big impact on the health and happiness of their employees.

One of the key components of workplace wellbeing is effective communication. When employees feel like they’re able to openly communicate with their colleagues and supervisors, they’re more likely to be engaged and productive. On the other hand, if communication is ineffective across a company, it can lead to a disjointed operation and results in a lack of team cohesiveness.

Effective communication can also help to prevent misunderstandings and conflict. When employees feel like their voices are being heard, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and less likely to experience burnout. As a result, promoting effective communication is essential for ensuring workplace wellbeing.

The problems of an ‘always-on’ culture

In recent years, there has been a shift towards an ‘always-on’ workplace culture, where employees may be expected to be available at all hours of the day. While this might increase productivity in the short term, it can also lead to a number of problems in the long run.

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance when you’re always on call – whether you’ve explicitly been told you need to be available or it’s just a feeling, based on what other employees do or other pressures.

Rarely switching off from your work can lead to burnout and resentment towards your job. It can create a feeling of constant pressure and stress, which can lead to mistakes and accidents, and makes it incredibly difficult to relax and recharge.

But a surprising number of us are putting in extra hours at work. According to research, employees working from home were putting in an extra two and a half hours in the average working day during the pandemic in the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada and the United States.

Exploring the impact of additional work in a new report ‘Embracing the Age of Ambiguity’, Aviva discovered:

  • Half of employees say they never fully switch off from work
  • Majority of young adults regularly check emails outside of working hours
  • More than a quarter agree that they are neglecting their physical and mental health due to being busy at work

While the stresses of working during a global pandemic would’ve impacted these figures, ‘presenteeism’ has always been a factor in workplaces. Presenteeism is when you turn up for work even when you feel emotionally or physically unable to do your job. The pressure of needing to work means individuals, despite being potentially unwell, still try and get work done. Unsurprisingly, they often end up less productive, only getting the bare minimum done and not getting the rest they needed. After all, more work doesn’t equal better performance – switching off pays off.

Now, when home and work have been merged into the same location for many people, there can be even more pressure to always be doing something. Whether that’s working while you’re unwell or working long hours, the ambiguity around home working, according to Aviva, “is compounding behaviour that is detrimental to long-term employee wellbeing.”

Some countries have sought to tackle the problem of overworking by introducing firm boundaries. Known as the right to disconnect, it sets clear guidelines for employees and employers. Workers aren’t expected to manage work calls and emails outside of working hours. Many versions of the right also make it a requirement that employees cannot be punished for following this rule.

How alerts and notifications affect us

In today’s fast-paced, always-connected world, it’s no surprise that workplace notifications have become a staple of our daily lives. From emails and calendar reminders to Slack messages and project updates, we’re constantly being pinged with new information – and it can be tough to stay on top of it all.

While workplace notifications can be helpful in keeping us organised and on track, they also have a negative impact on our productivity and wellbeing. Constant notifications can contribute to the feeling you need to be available and ready to work at a moment’s notice.

As well as potentially contributing to rising stress levels, alerts can result in decreased focus and concentration. In fact, the average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering emails, according to a McKinsey analysis. Going into our inbox isn’t the only way we tend to check what’s coming in either – many of us have notifications that emerge in the corner of their computer screens.

There’s a cost to all of these interruptions. Researcher Sophie Leroy from the University of Washington tells Harvard Business Review (HBR) what happens:

HBR discusses various studies which outline just how long it can take you to re-focus on a task following a distraction – from 64 seconds to a potential 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully recover after an interruption. That’s a lot of time for simply checking an email.

By now it should be no surprise to people who use devices: they are designed to attract and keep our attention. But knowing that doesn’t stop you from feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending stream of alerts. There’s a lot that goes on inside our bodies which contributes to the way we can feel about notifications and other alerts involved with screen usage.

Electronic devices (and the notifications they alert us with) stimulate parts of our brains, as well as release chemicals or hormones. This includes:


Neuroeconomist Paul Zak says oxytocin is also “primarily a molecule of social connection”, describing it as the “social glue” that binds people together and fosters trust.

But how is this relevant to our screen use? Well, oxytocin is triggered when we interact with others. Zak has conducted studies that show tweeting triggers the hormone.

Posting a photo, messaging people or even replying to an email – it can all give a feeling similar to interacting with people in person.

It all seems to stem from our desire to be liked or appreciated by other humans. Before the speed of technology, getting addicted or overly drawn to this would be pretty difficult because you just wouldn’t be able to regularly meet and interact with so many people.

With social media you get what writer David Gillespie calls “approval porn”, by posting something and getting instant feedback. The ease, high frequency and repetition of this is what makes it potentially addictive.


In an evolutionary context, dopamine would have rewarded us for beneficial behaviours, motivating us to repeat them. For example, it’s released when we exercise, eat, have sex, or socialise. Many positive social stimuli will result in dopamine being released – almost like a reward. It reinforces the behaviour that preceded it, which includes interaction over any screen.

Our mobiles provide almost an unlimited amount of social interaction. Text messages, likes and comments, even work notifications – they all have the potential to release dopamine.

There are four major pathways in the brain responsible for releasing and carrying dopamine, the hormone which is so heavily involved in our repeated interaction with devices. They’re known as reward pathways and, interestingly, have been shown to be dysfunctional in most cases of addiction.


Cortisol is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormone, which lets you know when you’re in potential danger. But if you’re the type of person who regularly checks your phone, putting it down can trigger a release of cortisol. According to Psychologist Larry Rosen, California State University Dominguez Hills, who is researching the link between cortisol and mobile devices, that’s because we don’t have an alert or notification every time we check our phones, so our brain starts to wonder about checking. To get rid of the anxious feeling that cortisol gives you, you pick up your phone to see if anything has happened.

With this hormone-driven behaviour and reward loop, it can feel like the odds are stacked against us. Apps will take advantage of this to keep us coming back for me. Sometimes we even know something isn’t making us feel good, but we can’t stop ourselves.

Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager, was one of the first tech insiders to publicly acknowledge how deliberate it is that our devices get our attention. It’s all in the programming.

t’s easy to dismiss this as something which happens outside of work, but think about the tools you use during your working day to communicate – whether that’s an email, call, or instant message. It’s likely you’re getting regular notifications designed to get your attention.

What’s more, apps are continually working on ways to keep our attention. When we use them, we’re essentially part of a controlled set of experiments – we are tested on and our behaviour is monitored. The companies behind these apps have vast amounts of data on us and can make predictions on how we’re going to use our devices. But why? Well, it’s simple. For social media apps like LinkedIn, we’re not the main customer. It’s paid for by advertisers – and that’s why we get to use it for free. Our attention is what’s being sold.