You’re Not Off the Hook, LinkedIn! Why the Professional Networking Platform Can Affect Mental Health
The other day, I went on my LinkedIn account as I normally do and saw I had six notifications, which is a lot considering I check my LinkedIn quite often. Who was looking at my account? Maybe my application for that job I want has been viewed? Maybe some likes on a recent post I’ve shared? I eagerly clicked the notification button just to see:
Congratulate Rachel Conrad* on the new position.
Congratulate Nicholas Redding on being promoted to Manager at [Insert dream company]
Congratulate Wanda Willis on four years at [Oh, another company I love]
You appeared in 58 searches this week.
We found similar jobs.
Stanley Coulanges liked your post (Stanley is my father)
Just like that, the excitement of the six notifications just depleted into nothingness. I went back to my homepage, scrolled through my feed, liked all the articles and announcements, engaged with people on their posts and do what I’ve been programmed to do on LinkedIn — network and connect.
But here’s the hiccup — there’s no other form of social media that negatively impacts my mental health more than LinkedIn.
It took time to realize the effect the professional networking site was having on me. I moved to Los Angeles in March 2018 with two suitcases and a dream — getting a marketing job in the entertainment industry. Being in a new city and changing industries, I knew I had to network like crazy and a lot of that began on LinkedIn. The platform became my go-to resource and the first step in engaging with folks, but at the same time it became an unhealthy obsession.
With every notification and email from LinkedIn came an overwhelming sense of hope. Someone was responding, someone was interested, someone wants to connect. Every time I logged on, my expectations were so high that I couldn’t help but be disappointed when all I would see was everyone around me succeeding or securing their dream job, while I continued to struggle. Unknowingly, I started to base my value as a professional on what was happening on LinkedIn.
There have been a lot of conversations about the effect social media has on mental healthwith research linking frequent use with increased levels of anxiety, depression, and lower self-esteem. With most studies focusing on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter as the main culprits, LinkedIn with its benevolent branding, has been spared from the discussion.
However, the way we use LinkedIn is increasingly similar to Facebook. Dr. Jelena Kecmanovic (Dr. K), a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, has seen first-hand how social media affects her clients, and LinkedIn is often included in the conversation. “It’s social comparison — with notifications and all those emails LinkedIn sends us saying, ‘look how wonderful all these people are doing’ and ‘they’ve been at their company for many years,’” Dr. K said. “I have clients come in with stories about LinkedIn just as much as the other social media platforms saying, ‘I can’t seem to be happy at a job for more than 2 or 3 years and I get these notifications saying, ‘congratulate Tim for being at his company for 15 years.’ What does that mean about me? Am I defective? Is there something wrong with me that I can’t keep a job? The work successes we’re bombarded with immediately calls for social comparison. ‘Look how fabulous they’re doing’ becomes ‘what am I doing with my life,’ and if you have a lot of people you’re connected with, it’s even worse.”
A few months ago, for the sake of my mental health, I decided to deactivate my LinkedIn account. I found myself constantly comparing my career with others, continuously looking for a new position, sliding into people’s DMs — behavior that you would never catch me doing on any other form of social media. When I told my colleagues and friends about my plan to take a break from LinkedIn, I was met with a resounding no. “No one will ever hire you if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile,” one friend said. “If you need a break from social media, delete your Facebook or Instagram, but keep your LinkedIn” a colleague mused. And my favorite one of all, I was told deleting my profile is “professional suicide.”
And I guess that’s where my problem lies — no matter how many ways I’ve expressed how detrimental LinkedIn is for my well-being, I don’t feel like I have a choice but to stay activated as my professional lifeline depends on it. No one would think twice if they couldn’t find me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, but deleting LinkedIn would mean I’m not taking my career seriously. So how does a twentysomething professional thrive in this uber-connected, anxiety inducing, cerulean icon filled world while maintaining some semblance of sanity?
“It really comes back to strategies so it’s not all or nothing,” Dr. K suggests. “Be consistent and tough with your boundaries. Notifications should be off. You shouldn’t get random notifications and emails from LinkedIn, that’s very intrusive. It should be you who controls when you go on, when you look at [your profile] and when you want to use it for your own purposes. Definitely put a limit and set your boundaries so you’re not at the mercy of being bombarded with updates. And be thoughtful as to who you connect with on LinkedIn.”
While Dr. K may suggest moderation, I think I’ll take a page out of Selena Gomez’ book and delete the app off my phone. I’ll congratulate you on your promotion a little later.
*Names have been changed, but I’m sure these people exist.