Screen Time Takes Toll on Workers' Eyes

1 in 3 workers say costs keep them from visiting eye doctors

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS February 10, 2020
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eye doctor exam
updated February 14, 2020

Workers' smartphones and tablets are straining their eyesight. Vision benefits can help, but only if employees visit the eye doctor.

Forty-three percent of U.S. workers report that their vision has worsened in the past three years, and that number rises to 58 percent among heavy screen users (13-plus hours a day), according to a workplace benefits report by vision-insurance provider Guardian Life, Coming into Focus: The Role of Vision Benefits and Eye Care in Health & Wellness. The report, which draws on a 2019 survey of 2,000 employees ages 22 and older, found that providing vision benefits may help attract and retain employees, as 70 percent of respondents considered vision benefits "very important."

Glued to Their Screens

U.S. workers spent an average of 11.8 hours per day looking at computers, phones, tablets, televisions, video games and other electronic devices, Guardian Life found. According to the American Optometric Association, heavy screen users often develop computer-vision syndrome with eye strain, dry eyes, eye irritation, blurred vision and double vision—all of which underscores the need to educate workers about the value of regular eye exams and the need to update eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions.

Employees surveyed in the Transitions Optical Workplace Wellness Survey were asked which workplace wellness initiative would improve their productivity, and half agreed it would be encouragement from their employer to take breaks to rest eyes—probably because 71 percent of them said they frequently experience digital eyestrain at the office. The study was conducted in January 2020 among 1,300 U.S. adults whose employers offer vision benefits.

Eight in 10 employees say they have taken measures to protect their eyes from digital eyestrain such as dimming screen brightness, limiting screen time and dimming lights in their workplace. They also cited lack of natural lighting and bright, fluorescent lighting as negatively affecting their ability to perform their best.

Workers "know protecting their eyes is crucial—especially as screen usage continues to increase," said Drew Smith, director for North America channels at Transitions Optical, which designs and manufactures eye care lenses. "Employers can—and should—take simple measures to implement wellness programs in their offices, such as encouraging their employees to take breaks to rest their eyes [and] offering a vision benefits plan that covers eyewear options to correct common visual problems," he advised.

Cost Is Deterrent

Eye exams' costs are a concern for U.S. workers, according to vision-benefits provider Versant Health's Vision Wellness Study, conducted last September with 500 responses from consumers 18 and older. Among the findings:

  • Cost was cited by 39 percent of respondents as a reason why they and their families don't visit an eye doctor as often as they would like.
  • Women were more likely (31 percent) than men (22 percent) to cite cost and insurance as barriers to eye care.

Guardian Life found that adults with vision plans were twice as likely to have regular eye exams (65 percent versus 32 percent) than those without the benefit.

While seven in 10 employers offer these benefits, certain segments of the workforce were less likely to have coverage, such as those who work for smaller firms, the hospitality industry, and lower-earning industries where workers typically earn less than $50,000 per year.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Establish and Design a Wellness Program]

Eye Care Is Health Care

Versant Health's study found that 84 percent of people said they'd be more likely to make an eye doctor appointment if they're made aware of the connection between eye health and early detection of diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions, which points to the importance of eye care in integrated health plans and packages.

"Vision care is preventative care, but two-thirds of people don't realize that their eye doctors can detect chronic conditions," said Kirk Rothrock, Versant Health CEO. "It's critical for people to understand how eye exams allow for early detection and treatment of potentially serious—and costly—health issues."

Daniel B. Levy, O.D., chief optometric officer of Guardian Life, noted that "eyes may be the window to the soul, but they are also the window to the whole body—a simple dilated eye exam not only provides information about an individual's eye health but can also detect more than 30 systemic diseases."

Mobile Vision Care Rolls Up

Employers are finding innovative ways to help employees get eye exams. 2020 On-site, for instance, is a mobile vision center that sees patients from a bus parked outside of the worksite, essentially an office visit on wheels. Billing is no different from seeing a traditional licensed optometrist, and is handled through employees' existing insurance plans. The service is currently operating in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, with plans to expand to other locations.



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