Monk Mode: A Hot Trend for Workers?

Making a lifestyle choice to block out social media and other distractions may help worker productivity. But it can create other issues. 

The BBC jumped on the trend, along with other news sources. So did TikTok. “Monk mode”—a term coined two decades ago by a computer program—has now become the latest social-media detox, one that experts say could help workers struggling to focus amid today’s incessant distractions. 

But does it come with a cost?

“Monk mode” basically means closing oneself off from such things as social-media or smartphone notifications. Some 77 million videos on TikTok were recently hashtagged “#monkmode,” up from 31 million in May. According to the BBC article, people are embracing smartphone apps to help them manage work-related distractions, and also to help establish a work-life balance. “It helps people get more focused,” says Donna Herdsman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and head of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practice in EMEA.

Experts say the phenomenon is clearly related to our need to fend off the headlines and Instagram distractions crowding our headspace. But it may also represent a backlash to the ever-intensifying “always on” work schedule that arose during the pandemic. “First it was the email inbox, then it spiraled out of control,” says Ben Frost, a senior client Partner in Korn Ferry's Products business. “Then you’ve got Teams chats, and all the other things, including social media; It’s just too much.” 

To be sure, social media is a kind of addiction for some people. As many as 2 out of 5 Brits say they spend too much time on social media, according to research from UCL's Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care. Combine that with overstuffed workdays, experts say, and burnout goes up. According to recent data, one in three British workers says they regularly suffer from this condition, whose symptoms include insomnia, exhaustion, anxiety, cynicism, and reduced efficiency. “You can very easily just be ‘on’ from the moment you get up until you go to bed,” says Grant Duncan, managing director and sector lead for Korn Ferry’s Media Entertainment and Digital business in EMEA. “I am sure that it is related to burnout.”

That’s leading employees to try to regain at least some modicum of control by going into monk mode. “People are trying to control their life by cutting things out,” says Matthew Atkinson, a Korn Ferry associate client partner focused on leadership. “If I control this area of my life then I can feel in control.”

However, it’s possible to take monk mode too far. First, experts warn, it disconnects employees from developing new networks. Love it or hate it, building a network is a must-do, according to an article in Harvard Business Review. “If you shut down completely from social media, you are not developing a network for the future, and you are distancing yourself from networks,” Atkinson says. 

People also could take monk mode too far. Cutting off from people and dissociating from society for weeks on end can lead to depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The trick is in maintaining a balanced life, not one where important things, such as self-care and social interaction, are ditched in totality,” says Atkinson. 


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