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Maaya Wadi and Hedi Trouw: Technology + stress = technostress

Technostress causes a lot of negative emotions, and hoarding it means putting your psyche to the test, Maaya Wadi and Hedi Trouw write in the Sirp newspaper .

 

Stress occurs when a person is unable to complete the tasks assigned to them and they are forced to make repeated efforts to overcome difficulties. Since 1984, they have also been talking about technostress, a term coined by Craig Broad.1

In simple terms, technostress is the inability to cope with technology without compromising your mental health. Experiencing technostress, a person loses a safe environment, feels anxiety and tension.2,3

 

Modern organizations are filled with technology, so the term is familiar to many. Helplessness, anger, sadness, shame, misunderstanding, confusion are just some of the feelings and states that a person experiences when he fails to master the technique.

 

What forms does technostress take in working relationships and what emotions does it evoke?

What is technostress?

 

Along with other stressful factors, technologies are involved in the formation of technostress. Anxiety is directly related to technology, and the definitions emphasize the ability to cope with the situation. Stress occurs when a person does not have the strength to deal with technology. When anxiety and uncertainty take over, stress takes on the forms described below.

 

The abundance of technology is typical for situations where employees need to work more or more intensively, because technology forces an increase in the amount of work or compacts the schedule. Because of this abundance, more demands are placed on employees in terms of volume and quality. People feel that they have to work faster.

Techno-abundance is most evident in the initial phase of the foundation of new technologies, when the new method is significantly different from the previous one and changes in the working rhythm are felt immediately. In the late phase, people get used to the new rhythm, and the changes are no longer so clearly felt.

 

Tech intrusion means the invasion of technologies used at work in non-working situations and the obligation to perform work-related tasks in your free time. For example, answering calls and emails outside of business hours, which a person should not actually do. This also includes situations where the employee feels that they have to learn new technologies in their spare time.4 This should happen during business hours. A peculiar manifestation of tech rejection is also a sense of duty, due to the employer’s requirement to equip the home office with the equipment offered by him, which is why the employee constantly stays among work-related things.

Technosyllabies are expressed by the inability to cope with new technologies, because they are too intricate. Mastering new technological tools is so difficult that a person has neither the time nor the resources. Employees get the feeling that they are not sufficiently capable and ignorant, that the development process takes too long. Because of this, people often feel that new colleagues are more talented and handle the new equipment better.5,4

Techno-confidence means that technology makes people worry about their safety and workplace. Uncertainty appears due to changes related to technology, people start thinking about the possible loss of their jobs.3 The fear of losing it is caused by automation of the workflow and low employee interest or insufficient ability to master a new technology.6

Uncertainty about technology is causing more and more people to think about whether an employee is suitable for their position and whether they can fully fulfill their work responsibilities. This uncertainty can be expressed by a person’s unwillingness to communicate at work, as people may feel judged by colleagues if they do not have the necessary skills to solve technological problems.3

This phenomenon can be facilitated by a growing dislike of technological progress, as a person perceives technology as an enemy that gradually takes over his work responsibilities and forces him to look for a new job.

Techno-definiteness occurs in situations where technologies are constantly being updated and supplemented, and employees must keep up with these changes.4 Employees feel that changes are forcing them to endlessly learn and improve their skills.5

 

Even though technological progress helps solve problems that have previously arisen, new opportunities mean that you need to get used to a new routine. It is good when the employee feels the need for training and self-improvement, but excessive pressure from superiors can have the opposite effect, reducing the employee’s ability to acquire new knowledge.

Techno-distrust occurs when there are interruptions in the system beyond the control of people, when employees begin to doubt the correctness of technologies. Unfortunately, the use of all technologies from time to time leads to non-human failures, which leads to downtime.

Since such situations are far from rare and cause people to worry, employees should be given detailed explanations. In such cases, employees often feel that they cannot rely on technology, so they may prefer time-consuming and resource-intensive methods.

 

Although technostress is common in many areas, the authors of this year’s study focused on stress among employees in the Estonian financial sector, as the work of financiers in recent years has been digitalized, which has led to dependence on technological systems.

As part of the study, nine financial workers kept a diary for a month, recording all the situations that caused technostress, their thoughts and feelings. Among them were women and men of different ages, working in different conditions and with different marital status.

How does technostress manifest itself and how does it turn out?

 

Based on a recent study, we can say that financial workers were most often faced with technosyllabic and tech-distrustful situations. To a lesser extent, the study participants experienced techno-rejection, techno-abundance, and techno-definiteness. The least frequently mentioned cases were those of techno-overconfidence.

 

Techno-distrust caused the greatest tension. The comments of all financial workers were about the same:

 

“I’m just learning a new part. You need to use four new programs to perform your work duties. Everything worked for half a day, then the computer had to restart, and the programs stopped opening. I actually tried to open it ten times, but to no avail.”

“Email search doesn’t work. You need to search among sent emails, but the system constantly hangs and does not search. It pisses me off that it takes too much time to do nothing. You could use your time more productively.”

Diary entries show how cases of technostress relate to feelings and emotions. It is striking that most of the feelings and thoughts were negative, but there were also a few isolated examples of how technostress eventually led to positive changes.

The study participants experienced the positive effects of technostress twice. For example, one employee found that the initially stressful automation process increased their interest in the content of the report and increased their contribution to its compilation.

 

Negative emotions were attributed to a lack of skills, problems using working hours, concerns about productivity and quality, and the ability to cope with the situation.

 

Negative feelings were perceived as a lack of skills, problems using working hours, concerns about productivity and quality, and the ability to cope with difficulties.

 

Most of the feelings and thoughts are associated with several types of technostress. This means that slightly different stressful situations can cause employees to have similar feelings. For example, techno-definiteness and technosyllabicities cause discomfort associated with questions from colleagues. Less common are feelings associated with situations of only one specific type of technostress. For example, it is the fear of making mistakes, uncertainty and nervousness associated with their own skills. Technostress situations cause a large number of negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction, and resentment.

 

Among the stronger negative emotions were also frustration, fear, exhaustion, panic, and remorse. All of them prove that on a mental level, technostress is a tough test.

The most diverse feelings of financial workers are related to professional competence and skills. In many cases, employees feel pressured to be able to solve problems themselves, so it is inconvenient to ask others for help.

 

Negative thoughts and feelings about one’s competence are primarily associated with technosyllabicities and techno-confidence, and to a lesser extent with techno-distrust.

 

Insufficient skills in a stressful situation lead to uncertainty, misunderstanding, confusion, and helplessness. Constant doubts about your skills and inability to meet external expectations in the long run call into question the suitability of the position and make you think about leaving.

 

The study participants also described many feelings and thoughts that indicate anxiety about their performance and quality. For a financial employee, the timeliness and accuracy of facts are important, when the result of work depends on specific deadlines and requirements. When experiencing technostress, employees think about how it will affect the result and accuracy of their work.

 

There is a fear that an important task will not be completed on time, the work will not be of sufficient quality, or errors will be found. In many situations, people feel that the use of technology is accompanied by inefficiency and other ways would make it possible to do the job better and in the same time frame. Worrying thoughts about performance and quality are mostly driven by technodeterminacy and techno-distrust. The study participants, for example, described the following situations::

“When I returned to the office after working from home, my mailbox wasn’t working properly. Restart and refresh didn’t help. And it was important for me to use the post office that day. The idea that I couldn’t do anything and was putting off too much for tomorrow was annoying.”

“The program I work with every day constantly surprises me with updates or bugs. I never had any problems with one process, but then I found out that something was missing in the system. To figure out how to get everything back, you need to understand where and when the problem occurred.”

When it comes to working time-related feelings, financial workers most often have the feeling that they are wasting their time. Such feelings appear in situations with techno-distrust, techno-abundance, techno-complexity, and techno-confidence. The feeling of wasting time occurs when technology delays or stops the performance of work duties altogether.

 

There were situations when employees could not complete all important tasks during working hours and felt that they were obliged to complete them during non-working hours. For example, you can still reply to emails even though the business day is already over.

Tech-distrust among financial workers appeared after failures in work programs. Despite the fact that these situations were not caused by the behavior of employees, they were accompanied by a certain sense of guilt and inconvenience to colleagues.

 

It could be assumed that the feeling of discomfort appears primarily in the case of technosyllabic situations, when the employee feels incompetent and is afraid of a negative reaction from more experienced colleagues. The information collected in the study did not confirm this. It turned out that the inconvenience to colleagues occurs in the case of techno-distrust.

Most of the entries in the diaries concerned only specific people, the reactions of others were not described. Most of the technostress-inducing problems were related to how a particular person copes with work, or to work responsibilities that did not concern the activities of colleagues.

 

The poor response from others may have been related to remote work. Online communication could make it difficult to perceive the reaction of colleagues, since people did not see for themselves how the other party involved in the problem expressed their emotions. Therefore, it cannot be said that the reaction of others would affect the intensity of the employee’s perception of the situation.

Perhaps the situations and feelings described are familiar to many. Still, there is reason to believe that talking about technostress and the feelings associated with it helps to cope with a tense situation.

 

One result of the study is encouraging. Respondents were asked to rate the period under review as a whole, and most noted that they were aware of the sources of technostress, and keeping a diary created opportunities for introspection. This was indicated by all respondents, regardless of the level of stress experienced. Perhaps this simple technique will also help others whose work is closely related to technology.

 

1 Craig Brod, The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, USA 1984.

 

2 Kanliang Wang, Qin Shu, Qiang Tu, Technostress under different organizational environments: An empirical investigation. – Computers in Human Behavior 2008, 24, 3002–3013. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.05.007

 

3 Nor Farah Hanis Zainun, Johanim Johari, Zurina Adnan (2020). Technostress and Commitment to Change: The Moderating Role of Internal Communication. – International Journal of Public Administration 2020, 43(15), 1327–39. DOI: 10.1080/01900692.2019.1672180.

 

4 Nico Dragano, Thorsten Lunau, Technostress at Work and Mental Health: Concepts and Research Results. – Current Opinion in Psychiatry 2020, 33(4):407–413. DOI: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000613

 

5 Monideepa Tarafdar, Qiang Tu, Bhanu S. Ragu-Nathan, T. S. Ragu-Nathan (2007). The Impact of Technostress on Role Stress and Productivity. – Journal of Management Information Systems 2007, 24(1), 301–328. DOI: 10.2753/MIS0742-1222240109

 

6 Magdalena Stadin, Maria Nordin, Anders BrostrΓΆm, Linda L. Magnusson Hanson, Hugo Westerlund, Eleonor I. Fransson, Information and Communication Technology Demands at Work: The Association with Job Strain, Effort-Reward Imbalance and Self-Rated Health in Different Socio-Economic Strata. – International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 2016, 89(7):1049–58. DOI: 10.1007/s00420-016-1140-8

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