UAE doctors warn employees against using screens, working from home post office hours

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Conducting business and completing work tasks after official business hours is negatively impacting the mental health of employees across the United Arab Emirates, doctors told Al Arabiya English.

Since COVID-19 in 2020 forced people to work from home, teleworking became more popular; as a result, blurring the line between a work-life and home-life.

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Long working hours have shown to negatively impact workers’ psychological health, according to research published by Frontiers in October 2022. Working from home has been associated with psychosocial stress, social isolation, sleep disorders, concentration deficit, and screen fatigue from long hours, the research said.

“You’re expected by bosses and managers to be able to answer your messages at all hours of day,” Dr Ruhil at Cornerstones Clinic in Dubai told Al Arabiya English. “It’s the ease of access to be able to just get on your phone and answer emails at one o’clock in the morning.”

Research from tech giant Microsoft suggested that the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. working day has started to become a thing of the past. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Microsoft Teams chats outside the typical workday increased more than in any other time segment, particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

When the pandemic set in, people were reportedly active on the messaging application shortly before bedtimes.

CEO of the company Satya Nadella said in 2022 that employee well-being could suffer in a remote working model if long workdays for an extended period of time are normalized.

“It is common to be working in your bed, on the kitchen table, in your pajamas - this was the case before the pandemic but certainly became a lot more common during the pandemic,” clinical psychologist Dr. Saliha Afridi told Al Arabiya English.

Blue light which comes from devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones are one of many factors playing into people’s wellbeing and mental health – especially if workers stay on these devices well into the evening.

“Blue light is causing issues with eyesight,” Dr. Julia Sempere, consultant ophthalmologist told Al Arabiya English, explaining that those with too much exposure to screens can suffer from dryness and damage to the eye.

Although there is no official advice for adults regarding blue light consumption, for children it is a maximum of two hours a day, the ophthalmologist explained. As well as harming eyesight, staying on screens for long periods of time can make it more difficult for people to switch off.

“The neurons [in the brain] are firing constantly and there is no switching off, and switching off is what you need to help with depression and to decrease anxiety,” said Ruhil.

“What impacts our physical health will impact our mental health and even something like poor sleep can result in people having symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and agitation,” Afridi added.

Doctors recommend a clearly defined work structure, including consciously switching off screens when away.

Alfridi said people should maintain a daily schedule where part of the day without technology is “key,” while Ruhil advised people to turn of laptops and televisions one hour before going to bed.

“If you don’t, then your sleep is disturbed and lack of sleep is massively related to mental health,” she said.

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