Thanks to tech innovations in the last few decades, millions of businesses have experienced massive disruptions that have led to unparalleled growth and success. With smart devices, work teams can connect in a Zoom meeting from anywhere in the world, while also leveraging work management platforms to complete daily work tasks.
With these disruptions scaling up business operations and driving efficiency, are employees ceding their health and well-being for tech disruptions to thrive?
In 1984, Craig Brod defined "Techno Stress" for the first time in his book “Techno Stress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution, describing how the computerized workplace negatively impacts workers and alter their attitudes and well-being considerably.
Brod defined technostress as “a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new computer technologies in a healthy manner.” In his book, Brod explains how the disease manifests as a constant struggle to adapt and catch up with a computerized society and how the computerized society transforms people into a machine-like state.
Nearly 40 years since Brod wrote the book at the dawn of the full integration of computer technology into workplace processes, technostress has continued to be a rather silent factor blunting employee well-being.
Technostress encompasses the anxiety, tension, and distress that comes with adapting to new technology and also induced its use. As technology continues to evolve and new tech upgrades are rolled out nearly every day, the burden of technostress continues to threaten employee well-being and productivity.
Technostress impacts employees working across different work models; whether working from home or in the office, technology has overarching impacts on workers. Technostress affects workers in five key ways:
1. Techno-overload: Advances in information technology come with an overwhelming stream of information. Workers are constantly inundated by a barrage of work-related emails, text messages, app notifications, LinkedIn messages, and messages from other sources, attending to each of which drives significant stress.
2. Techno-invasion: No thanks to smart devices that are constantly accessible to most people, some of these messages come in outside work hours, inconveniently blurring the lines between personal and work times. This often leads to an unhealthy extension of work hours beyond the regular workday as it creates unhealthy accessibility and a need to be constantly connected.
3. Techno-complexity: New work management systems get approved and employees have to onboard within a strict timeline. New software gets uploaded and employees, who might be insufficiently trained to navigate these new platforms, are pressured to sign up or utilize these new tech models to continue the workflow. These system upgrades, therefore, require re-learning new skills and understanding complex concepts, which many employees may struggle with.
4. Techno-insecurity: If there’s one thing the rapid advancement in technology has induced in the workforce, it's the fear and anxiety of losing jobs to AI-driven tools. As a result, many workers are constantly worried about the future of their job and how tech may displace them in a matter of months or years.
5. Tech-uncertainty: Frequent tech upgrades in a company could be a bit overwhelming for most employees. Having to transition from one work management platform to another within weeks or months means people’s knowledge gets rapidly outdated and they need to quickly learn new skills, which may also soon be discarded when the software gets upgraded or changed. It becomes a constant hassle for workers to keep up with tech changes in an organization.
These forms of technostress all yield similar physical and even mental health symptoms that undermine their productivity. Psychological stress is a huge complication of technostress, with many employees reporting anxiety, irritability, frustration, insomnia, and cognitive strain as common symptoms of overwhelming stress from adapting to technology at work.
The well-being impacts of technostress cut across physical, emotional, and mental health, with chronic musculoskeletal problems, including backaches, headaches, muscle strain, and stiff shoulders. Other physical health impacts of technostress include eye strain, dry mouth and throat, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure.
Employees also report experiencing behavioral patterns induced by technostress, such as overdependence on computers and smart devices, overspending on computers, social withdrawal, and substance abuse.
In today’s workplace, people equipped with technology are often the most hit by technostress. People tend to conduct work-related tasks and processes on their computers for hours on end with nearly all interactions on their computers or smart devices. For remote workers, the strain is more heightened as they are often cut off from the social connections typically found in traditional workplaces.
Unchecked, technostress leads to certain cognitive symptoms, such as trouble concentrating and poor decision-making, as well as behavioral changes causing low initiative and energy. Over time, these effects diminish employee performance and productivity.
Therefore, managers and HRs need to pay a closer look at the impact of technology on employee health and well-being, and how tech disruptions in the workplace drive workplace stress. Organizations need to adopt these key strategies to ensure tech advancements can thrive without constricting employee well-being.
1. Encourage Clear Boundaries
The unhealthy need to be “always on” is one of the major drivers of technostress. The increased accessibility that technology affords us often means that work-related messages can be sent at any time and from anywhere. Encourage your team to disconnect after work hours or during breaks, to help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.
For remote workers, encourage a clear work period, within which work-related interactions are allowed to go on. Avoid sending work-related messages outside these hours and don’t expect them to respond to these messages outside those hours. If your employees have a flexible work period, encourage them to have a fixed sign-off time, after which work-related messages will not be responded to.
2. Provide Adequate Training
Getting a hang of new tech upgrades could be very overwhelming. It helps to offer adequate training to employees to help them navigate the new software or tools easily. It is also important to allow a flexible, self-paced onboarding process, to ensure all employees are able to navigate the new tools easily before they start using them.
Talk to your team about the tool and why there’s a new upgrade before you introduce it to them, This step is important as it helps them see the importance of the software and helps them adjust faster. It is important to introduce the new tool gradually to allow time for them to adjust and learn the skills required to navigate the tool.
3. Discourage Excessive Exposure to Tech
Some tech activities often pose a distraction to work and tend to cause an unhealthy attachment to computer technology. Avoid holding too many virtual meetings where traditional office meetings are possible. Avoid unnecessary email communications if a little walk to a colleague’s office does it.
These simple things reduce techno-overload and keep employees from an unhealthy dependence on technology. It is also important for managers and HR to limit email messages to when they are absolutely necessary. Encourage more social interactions and “offline” activities to keep a healthy dissociation from digital distractions.
Identifying and Curbing Technostress
Technostress is often not easy to identify as most organizations see tech innovations as fixing the problem rather than being a part of the problem. Technology, no doubt, has enormous positive contributions to organizational growth and success, but it also comes with certain drawbacks that may decrease employee health and productivity.
Employers and business leaders need to pay a closer look at how the digitalized workforce is impacting employee health and well-being and take proactive steps to curb this trend. Encourage a healthy balance for your employees by helping them reduce their exposure and dependence on computer technology and rolling out alternatives to digital tools where practicable.