Title:Never Underestimate the Influence of Digital Stress at the Workplace
Type of article:Insights/Blog
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Are you feeling pressured at work or is your job not as much fun anymore? 

The ever-increasing demands of the modern workplace have proved to be a major pain point that shoots up the pressure on employees. The present study investigated the psychological health effects and motivational origins of digital stress based on a representative survey of 1,557 German tech users between 14 and 85 years of age. Communication overload from instant messaging, social media feed as well as multitasking via with multiple browser tabs were positively related to perceived stress and had significant indirect effects on burnout, depression, and anxiety.

Perceived social pressure and the fear of missing out (FOMO) on information and social interaction were key drivers of communication overload and multitasking. Age significantly moderated the health effects of digital stress as well as the motivational drivers of communication load and Internet multitasking.

As a leader you want your team to do their best. And that naturally means providing them all the tools or solutions they need. Unfortunately, that new calendar app, communication tool, or trendy chat app could be more of a curse than a boon.

With constantly rising pressure to be productive, higher expectations, and less time for work, asking your team to learn a new, complex tool on their own can be incredibly stressful.

And increasingly, it can lead to something called Technostress— health issue sprouting from use of new technology.

What is Technostress?

As the name implies, Technostress is the stress and negative psychological impact of introducing multiple technologies at work.

The term was first used by Craig Brod in his book of the same name back in 1984. Yet while Brod was talking about the widespread adoption of computers & digital gadgets in the workplace, our dependence on (and frustration with) technology has only grown since.

What are the main causes of Technostress?

  • Violation: Hands up if you’ve ever taken work home with you. Thanks to smartphones and high-speed internet, jobs are rarely restricted to just the workplace. With technology invading our work and home, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re getting more stressed.

  • Overkill: Even when work somehow stays at work, we’re often overloaded by interruptions. With the average office worker receiving 121 emails every day (and who knows how many messenger notifications), people often feel under fire and overworked. Check out our blogs on Application and Information overload to know more about this.

  • Complexity: Many workers inexperienced with technology find new tools unnecessarily convoluted and menacing. Every app comes with new “helpful” features and its own unique jargon that you need to learn. You’d probably need a guide for the most “convenient” tool.

  • Apprehension: The pressure of being up to date on every piece of technology, you can get your hands on, is stupendous. Not every one can be a tech alpha geek instantly.

  • Unpredictability: Finally, as technology keeps advancing, many feel a sense of instability and uncertainty about what their work (and life) will look like tomorrow. Nobody likes to work in fear or bullied by anything. AI taking over people’s jobs isn’t, necessarily, perceived as a pleasant news by everyone.

Technostress isn’t about a specific tool or app.  The constant use of emailing or instant messaging at work, which generates a constant pressure to reply to all signals received, especially where the employee feels the need to reply in order to show their presence. This can place some employees at the risk of developing mental fatigue. The ‘real-time’ nature of online work can develop into ‘unreal time’, slicing up the work-life balance. The effects upon the employee include fatigue, concentration problems, anxiety, muscle tensions and apathy.

What does Technostress do to you?

So, what happens when you get overwhelmed with new technology? Humans have only one stress response, which is why the symptoms of Technostress look so familiar.

  • For starters, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases significantly. This can quickly lead to strain and burnout at workbad news for both employers and employees.

  • Along with burnout, Technostress can cause a wide range of other symptoms, like:

  • Headaches, sore neck, back, and shoulder muscles, an inability to relax, and hypertension are just a few of the common physical symptoms of Technostress.

  • Workers feeling overwhelmed by technology have increased errors, worse productivity, more difficulty concentrating, and low morale, and they can become depressed, mentally exhausted, and cynical toward technology.
  • Technostress can cause panic/anxiety attacks, feelings of isolation, and irritability. It can also lead to less time for sustained thinking, work/life imbalance, reduced job satisfaction, and increased mental and time pressure.
  • Pair these with all the other things that can contribute to workplace stress and that new technology you brought in could be doing more harm than good.

  • Even worse, your team might not even be using the thing. Studies found Technostress can lead to workers ignoring or avoiding tech-related procedures. So rather than saving time and money, that new tech could be siphoning money off your wallet you without any actual benefits.

  • This can lead to security risks, as over challenged workers ignore important security procedures. If your team gets stressed out every time, they log on using your fancy new certified and secured firewall, it won’t be long until they stop using it completely.


How to deal with Technostress?

This isn’t to say that you should stop looking for productivity software that works for you. The benefits of using new technologies in the right way can far outweigh the downsides of Technostress.

This means having a strong digital culture with a clear strategy on the use of technology at the core of your business, rather than a throwaway technology policy that nobody pays attention to.

·         Assess the risk:

The first step is to get a clear picture of the current situation. In many countries, it’s a legal requirement to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

·         Increase general awareness:

A big part of preventing Technostress is being aware of its causes and directly addressing them. Make sure your team knows they can speak up if they’re struggling with a new tool. Remember, those who only occasionally use technology are more at risk, so include infrequent tech users.

·         Encourage work boundaries:

Often workers complain there’s an expectation (unspoken or otherwise) to take work home with them or to check their inbox in the evenings and on weekends.

To prevent Technostress, managers should make it clear that employees are not to reply to work emails outside of work hours. This includes not sending conflicting messages by praising staff members who answer emails after hours.

·         Carry out technology-specific training:

The most important step is allocating enough resources to adequately train staff on new technology. This can reduce most of the contributing factors, including complexity, uncertainty, and insecurity, before they have a chance to lead to Technostress.

·         Put the right person in the right job:

Studies have found certain personality types actually respond positively to many Technostress triggers. For example, workers with a proactive personality were able to deal with overload and were more productive as a result.

·         Review processes and procedures:

Start by looking at a typical workday and redesigning it to avoid unnecessary overload. Too many business owners get starry-eyed over all the apps and technologies available. Instead, take an honest look at the tasks your team carries out and ask yourself: What is the minimum amount of technology they need to carry out their tasks? Do they need all those apps to do their job, or are the apps unnecessarily complicating things?

By keeping on top of the tools your team needs, monitoring how they use them, and reducing unnecessary or overly complex tech, you can prevent Technostress before it even becomes a problem in your organization.

·         Reduce unnecessary communication:

One of the main benefits of technology in modern business is communication. We communicate with our teams, customers, clients, suppliers. However, all that communication contributes to overload.

That fancy new chat app may seem like a great way to keep your team on the same page, but it could also build up communication debt. By taking the initiative to minimize unnecessary communication, you can help reduce the associated stress.

·         Embrace novelty:

One of my favorite quotes about brain health is: “The brain awakens in the new.” Encourage your employees to learn new things, try new things, and live their lives fully. Offering an on-demand online learning platform with a variety of engaging content from work-related courses to fun courses like yoga and photography will help keep your employees stimulated at work.

·         Foster social connections:

Strengthening existing social connections is another important stress-prevention strategy. However, other people can also be one of the biggest sources of stress. It is encouraged that managers think about the way they interact with their direct reports because putting people under a lot of strain will ultimately be counterproductive.

·         Digital Detox:

Deloitte recently published an article that included a digital detox that all employees could look at an implement over a 7-day week. It is simple and doesn’t take up too much time, and it is also something you could do with your colleagues, friends or family to add a challenge to it. 

Unfortunately, chronic stress impairs our brain functions in the moment and results in lasting damage long after the event. Even when we’re no longer stressed, our body and brain can still be negatively impacted by stress. This is bad news for companies, both in terms of how employees feel when experiencing acute stress and during its aftereffects. Sustained high stress at work is linked to employee burnout, a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, which Harvard Business Review estimates costs companies $125 billion to $190 billion a year.

Take care of yourself, colleagues, employees, friends and family. Bring back the fun at work and save money as well. Life is too short to not have fun. I would love to hear more about your personal experiences with Technostress. Please feel free to share your stories in comments.