Technostress – The Dark Side of the Increasing Use of Information and Communication Technologies
In 2013, one billion smartphones were delivered worldwide, and it is predicted that global sales volumes in 2021 will amount to around 1.5 billion smartphones (Statista, 2019a). In addition, around four billion people already use the Internet today, which corresponds to around 60% of the world’s population (Statista, 2019b). These figures provide information about the high degree of penetration of smartphones and the Internet in today’s society and illustrate that information and communication technologies (ICT) have a decisive influence on the everyday life of the population.
The economy and society in general have benefited greatly from increasing digitization and access to ICT – examples include improved access to information and increased efficiency and productivity (Hitt & Brynjolfsson, 1996). However, this development also has its downsides. In recent years, both scientific studies and practical reports have increasingly pointed out that the use of ICT in both private and organizational contexts can lead to strong stress perceptions among the respective users (Riedl et al., 2012). This specific form of stress is called technostress and was first coined by the psychologist Craig Brod in the 1980s (Brod, 1984). In the scientific literature, technostress represents a subcategory of stress that occurs in situations where the use of ICT leads to the user being overwhelmed (Tarafdar, 2019). According to this, technostress is a reaction of the body to severe psychological stress caused by the use of ICT in a personal or organizational context.
How is technostress triggered?
So far, five central reasons for the emergence of technostress have been identified by the scientific community (Tarafdar et al., 2007; 2011; 2015; 2019):
- Techno-overload: Describes a situation in which the use of ICT leads to the user working longer and faster and carrying out activities in parallel. This situation is triggered, for example, by the simultaneous use of several messenger and information applications, which allow simultaneous strands of information to be received and processed in real time. As a result, not all information can be processed and used efficiently. In addition, the notification of incoming e-mails or messages can put pressure on users to respond immediately, resulting in the interruption of the activity the user was previously engaged in.
- Techno-invasion: The use of ICT results in the fact that users are in principle available at all times. In the worst case, this can lead to users feeling compelled to be available at all times. In addition, the boundaries between private and professional life can become increasingly blurred.
- Techno-complexity: Describes a situation in which the use of ICT triggers a feeling of incompetence in users. This can lead to users feeling compelled to invest time and effort in learning and understanding different applications. This effect is often reinforced by ever shorter development cycles for new ICT.
- Techno-insecurity: Describes situations in which individuals feel the fear of losing their job as a result of being replaced by new ICT or people with better ICT skills
- Techno-uncertainty: The continuous changes and expansions of ICT can confuse users and cause a feeling of ignorance. This often leads to frustration and anxiety, as acquired knowledge quickly becomes obsolete due to fast ICT development cycles, and constant demands to learn a new system can lead to a constant feeling of being overwhelmed.
What are the effects of technostress?
Studies show that technostress can trigger a variety of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms, such as exhaustion, headaches, anxiety, concentration problems, obsessive thoughts and, in the worst case, even burnout (Brillhart, 2004; Matteson & Ivancevich, 1987; Nelson, 1990). These effects are further intensified by increasing digitalization.
In an organizational context, it has been proven that technostress can lead to role conflicts, reduced productivity, emotional instability and reduced commitment to the professional activity and the employer (Ragu-Nathan et al., 2008). A study by Tarafdar (2007) impressively shows that the effects of technostress can endanger the health of employees in the long term through emotional exhaustion up to burnout. Particularly strong triggers of technostress in the work context are often the technological pressure to adapt due to the shortened half-life of technological knowledge and the constant communication noise caused by e-mails, messenger messages and phone calls (Böhm et al., 2016).
How can companies reduce technostress in the daily work of their employees?
Businesses can help to minimize the technostress arising from the use of ICT through various measures. It is important to emphasize here that the measures can only have their desired effect if they are implemented correctly. If this is not the case, they can result in increased stress (Weibler & Garman 2019).
- Active knowledge management and training: ICT-related knowledge should be actively shared and documented within the company. In addition, professional training on systems and applications should be provided to reduce the perceived complexity associated with organizational ICT and promote the learning process.
- Provision of technical support: A one-stop shop should provide support to staff in case of emerging problems or questions on the use of ICT. For example, an easily accessible help desk can guide the user through the application and answer application-specific questions. This could lead to a reduction in the perceived complexity and uncertainty of using ICT.
- Involvement in the ICT process: This includes measures to involve employees in the process of selecting and developing ICT. This can be achieved, among other things, by a transparent handling of information on the introduction of new ICT or updates. Among other things, the reasons for the introduction of ICT and the expected benefits should be communicated to employees. This will involve employees in the decision-making process and increase their willingness to use the ICT.
- Innovation support: Through innovation workshops, companies can encourage employees to experiment with ICT and learn new things in an informal environment. This can lead to a reduction in techno-insecurity.
Conclusion and advice for managers
In addition to a number of well-known benefits, ICT has the potential to trigger technostress, which can have far-reaching effects on the mental, physical and emotional health of individuals. However, managers can do much to reduce technostress, not only at the level of senior management, but at all levels of the organization.
A study by Böhm et al (2016) shows that the relationship between employee and manager has a significant influence on the development of technostress. This means that maintaining a good relationship climate and an open and transparent communication culture is associated with less emotional exhaustion and overtaxing with ICT. Managers should therefore try to build a relationship of trust with their employees and inform them transparently about planned ICT changes. In addition, managers should respect the boundary between work and private life and contact employees only within their working hours, despite their constant availability.
Böhm, S. A., Bourovoi, K., Brzykcy, A., Kreissner, L. M., & Breier, C. (2016): Auswirkungen der Digitalisierung auf die Gesundheit von Berufstätigen: Eine bevölkerungsrepräsentative Studie in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. St. Gallen: Universität St. Gallen.
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Statista 2019a https://de.statista.com/themen/581/smartphones/
Statista 2019b https://de.statista.com/themen/42/internet/
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