The Loop

Digital Eyestrain: Improve Productivity With Vision Benefits

Filed under: Benefits

We live in an era when nearly all of our information is delivered via a screen. This age of technology has changed the way we do nearly everything, such as communicate, shop, entertain ourselves, and even how we do our jobs. Across every industry, information and transactions are conducted through desktop and mobile device screens. While the information exchanged facilitates speed and accuracy, technology has brought with it many detriments – some of them related to our physical and cognitive health.

Health Impact
A recent survey found that 57 percent of adult Americans spend a minimum of eight hours a day gazing at digital devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and television screens. Among them, 40 percent admit to spending 12 or more hours a day looking at digital screens. And yet, it doesn’t take nearly that long to develop vision problems. The Vision Council reports that eye strain symptoms can occur when eyes are focused on a digital device for as little as two consecutive hours a day.

Studies indicate that 50 to 90 percent of people who spend their days using digital devices report symptoms of computer vision syndrome: eye strain, headache, increased sensitivity to light, blurred or double vision; sore neck, shoulders or back; and dry, sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes. Workers tasked with particularly demanding visual requirements are likely to suffer the worst. This includes responsibilities such as accounting, document editing, CAD (computer-assisted design) work, electronic design and engineering.

Eyes are not the only victim of digital work. Efforts made to reduce eye strain (e.g., regular breaks, ergonomic aids) also can relieve or prevent a range of musculoskeletal problems such as lower back pain, neck and shoulder strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, weakened core/abdominal muscles, lower limb disorders, and conditions associated with weight gain, such as diabetes, and even mental disorders and depression.

Thus, a vision benefits program can be instrumental in reducing computer worker compensation claims and sick days due to other conditions, such as musculoskeletal pain. 

Productivity Impact

Now that the widespread incidence and severity of ocular conditions have been established, the optometry industry has begun to study the impact of eye strain on work productivity. A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry shows that computer vision syndrome and undetected vision problems can reduce on-the-job performance by 20 percent.

The UAB research tested how providing computer workers with counter-acting eyewear could improve productivity by dividing the average gain in productivity by the costs associated with the eyewear, over the course of one year. The study found that uncorrected vision problems caused between 2.5 percent and 21 percent reduction in productivity. Specifically:

  • Visual eye strain decreased a worker’s productivity by about 15 minutes of work per day.
  • Among workers who had perfect vision but suffered from eye strain, a loss of 15 minutes of productivity per day totaled more than 65 hours lost over a year’s time.
  • When extrapolated to the estimated 65 percent of US workers who suffer from digital eye strain, this equates to more than $8.4 billion hours of lost productivity.

For a drilled-down example of how an employer can benefit from providing appropriate eyewear for computer workers, let’s say a company paid a claims processor $125 a day. That worker processed 100 claims a day, for an employer cost of $1.25 per processed claim. If providing computer glasses increased the worker’s productivity by a modest estimate of five percent, the worker could then process an additional five claims per day. This would increase the employer’s cost savings to $6.25 (5 x $1.25). Assuming the staffer worked 250 days a year, this would result in a cost savings of $1,562 per year, per worker.

To reiterate, the UAB study found that computer glasses can enhance individual worker productivity by as much as 20 percent – so the savings are likely much higher, and exponentially higher among companies with a large workforce.

Vision Benefits

The following are active measures employers can take to improve working conditions in order to reduce eyestrain and, in turn, improve productivity.

  • Proper office lighting. Office lighting via fluorescent or LED light bulbs is frequently too bright and can produce visual fatigue. Providing adjustable, ambient light can help prevent eye strain.
  • Workspace location. Cubicles and offices located near windows may be preferable, but natural light can cause glare that makes eyes work harder. Position workspaces so they are not directly in front of or behind a window; position computers and other digital screens at a 90-degree angle to nearby windows.
  • Screen breaks. Managers should actively encourage staffers to take regular breaks from screen time. Also, discourage workers from using their break time to engage with their cell phones by texting, checking emails and reading social media.
  • Practice 20/20/20. Normally, people blink an average of 14 times a minute, but staring at a screen tends to reduce that blink rate by a third or half. This can lead to dry, itchy or burning eyes. Experts recommend regular vision breaks via the 20/20/20 rule: Shift eyes to look something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. This practice reduces eye strain caused by prolonged screen viewing.
  • Anti-glare screens. Issue LCD monitors and anti-glare screen protectors equipped with a matte filter that reduce glare.
  • Anti-blue light glasses. Issue and promote the use of special glasses that reduce blue-light exposure from screens, which exacerbates eye strain.
  • Upgrade equipment. Older equipment with cathode ray tube monitors generate an imperceptible flicker that can lead to eye strain and fatigue.
  • Teach good posture. Many people don’t think about where their computer is located and how that affects them. A computer screen should sit at eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from the worker’s face. An easy way to measure this the distance of an outstretched arm out with the palm up. If the user feels the monitor needs to be closer, suggest increasing the computer’s font size instead, which will help reduce eye strain.
  • Encourage customize control. Teach workers how to adjust the brightness and/or contrast of their screens for their own comfort level. Eye strain can be reduced by dimming the screens to be less bright than the surrounding environment.
  • Automate brightness level. There are programs, such as F.lux (free), designed to monitor and automatically reduce the brightness of a screen throughout the day as appropriate for changes in surrounding light levels.
  • Offer vision insurance. Early diagnosis of vision issues generally leads to more effective treatment, so don’t just offer insurance – promote the importance of vision health and annual eye exams. An additional bonus is that a comprehensive vision exam can help detect other health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

The recent proliferation of people working from home is likely to lead to higher instances of Computer Vision Syndrome. This is primarily because home workspaces may not offer proper ergonomic conditions that can help reduce digital eye strain. Recognize that digitally-caused health conditions may take time to surface and are progressive, so it’s important to launch active measures now to ensure home workers, as well as office workers, understand and practice effective vision care measures.

Today, more than 11 million Americans over age 12 need vision correction, although many of them are unaware of it. Not correcting current vision issues can lead to increased problems with fatigue and digital eye strain. A recent survey of US optometrists revealed that more than 10 million eye exams each year are sought because of vision problems related to computer use.

It is important for employers to prioritize vision health, almost as much as physical and cognitive health, because extended work-related computer use can be the direct cause for ocular conditions. But if that’s not enough motivation, consider how improved productivity can enhance your bottom line. Particularly with so many young adults entering the workforce – people who grew up glued to digital screens and are already primed for digital eyestrain – vision benefits may become one of the most critical benefits an employer can offer.

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