Stress and New Technology3rd September 2020
As a manager you want your team to do their best. And that naturally means making sure they have all the tools they need. Unfortunately, that new calendar app, communication tool, or project management software might be causing more harm than good.
As the name implies, technostress is the stress and negative psychological impact of introducing new 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 in the workplace, our dependence on (and frustration with) technology has only grown since.
1: Perpetual Distraction
The persistent beeping, vibrating and flashing of notifications mean that we are constantly distracted and driven to interrupt what we are doing to check our phones. Indeed, a UK study found that smartphone users unlock their phones on average 85 times a day; and use it for about five hours each day. This means we are unable to focus our attention and consolidate things properly into our memory, causing us to feel more and more ‘goldfish-like’, which can be quite distressing in itself. This is backed up by research which is beginning to show correlations between high smartphone and internet use, and poor cognitive skills such as attention, memory and learning.
2: Sleep Dysregulation
Many of us use our phone at bedtime. You get into bed intending to go to sleep, but you just want to check your phone (just for ‘a second’) to find out something innocuous like tomorrow’s weather… and then an hour later, there you are watching a totally random video, trying to decide whether you hear a computerised voice saying the word ‘yanny’ or ‘laurel’. Looking at our phones when we should be going to sleep has the double whammy effect of over-stimulating our brains, making it hard to wind down and switch off, and exposing us to blue light from the screen. Research suggests that blue screen exposure can reduce melatonin production, which interrupts our circadian rhythm (i.e. sleep-waking cycles), making it harder for us to fall, and stay, asleep. Unfortunately, poor sleep tends to mean poorer resilience and higher levels of anxiety and stress.
3: Work/Life Balance
While in the past there was often a clear boundary between where work life ended, and home life began. His area is now very much grey. Most of us have our work emails on our phones, making us constantly available and contactable. This makes it very difficult for us to ever truly disengage from work and relax.
Or Fear Of Missing Out is essentially a type of social anxiety that arises from the fear that you are missing out on something; whether it’s an event, a work or social opportunity, a communication, or a potential connection, or just something cool and ethereal that you might like to see or be part of. So we want to be connected. ‘just in case’. To test this, just ask your friends and family if they’ve ever considered coming off social media. Like us, they probably have… but the majority probably decide not to, because of FOMO. Ironically, the more connected we are, the more likely we may be to experience FOMO, because it is often caused by the posts we see on social media sites like Facebook leading us to believe our friends and acquaintances are having exciting and/or interesting experiences in our absence. To find out more about research exploring the relationship between problematic smartphone use, FOMO and mental wellbeing.
5: Social Comparison
We can’t help but compare ourselves to others, and social comparison theory suggests that we use these types of comparisons to evaluate how we think and feel about ourselves. Social Media, by its nature, actively encourages social comparison, as it is littered with information that can easily be used as metrics of apparent social success (e.g. friends, likes, shares, followers and so forth). These metrics are problematic in themselves, because if we don’t get enough likes to a comment or picture we have posted, or if someone has more likes or friends than us, it can make us feel inferior. Furthermore, the disparity between real life and what people actually post on social media means that we tend to only see an extremely edited ‘highlight reel’ of other people’s lives. This effectively gives the false impression that others lead a more exciting/perfect/interesting life than our own, which, in reality has its fair share of ups, middles and downs for everyone. increasing the likelihood of negative social comparisons being made, which can have serious consequences on our wellbeing.
Causes of technostress
Technostress isn’t just about specific tools or apps. To understand its true impact, we can group the stressors that cause technostress into five categories:
Invasion: “Technology is taking over my life!”
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.
Overload: “I can’t keep up with all these tasks!”
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 IM notifications), people often feel under fire and overworked.
Complexity: “This technology is too complicated!”
Many workers inexperienced with technology find new tools unnecessarily complex and intimidating. Every app comes with new “helpful” features and its own unique jargon that you need to learn. Even Gmail has so many different options and settings you probably won’t know about them all without a guide.
Insecurity: “If I can’t work out how to use this technology, I’ll get fired!”
Unfortunately, most workers are expected to learn the tool by themselves as they go along, without any additional training (or even time) provided.
Worse still, many feel that if they can’t keep up-to-date with the latest technology they’ll be replaced by someone who can. This results in performance anxiety and a very real sense of insecurity, putting even greater pressure on workers.
Uncertainty: “Wait, is this how this technology is supposed to work?”
Finally, as technology keeps advancing, many feel a sense of instability and uncertainty about what their work (and life) will look like tomorrow. Even we writers aren’t immune, as headlines of AIs taking our jobs become increasingly common.
Looking at the five categories of stress, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that highly innovative companies that are constantly pushing the boundaries had the highest levels of technostress.
Interestingly, though, those who only use technology occasionally are more likely to suffer from technostress, as people who regularly use technology seem to develop the necessary coping skills.
Along with burnout, technostress can cause a wide range of other symptoms, such as:
- 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 costing you without any actual benefits.