Spencer Schar: What is Technostress?

Technology keeps people connected. However, in an “always on” age, the work-life balance can easily get out of kilter, negatively affecting the mental well-being of employees. Entrepreneur Spencer Schar recognizes all too well the need for the separation of work, personal life, and family life. As workplaces become ever-more demanding, HR directors are increasingly coming to see the impact that remaining constantly connected via digital devices is having on employees.

Technostress has become widespread due to increased adoption and reliance on technology. For employees seeking enhanced support in their workplaces, there is growing concern regarding the negative effects of technostress.

According to HR Grapevide, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of common mental health problems rose by 25%. Worryingly, this figure has not fallen following the relaxation of pandemic measures. Armed with mobile phones, laptops, and tablets, many employees remain connected to the workplace long after the office has closed and during weekends, holidays, and vacations. In the UK, 47% of employees cite complications at work or technology issues as hurting their mental health.

The ever-increasing overlap between work and home life is leaving many people susceptible to stress or burnout, affecting their mental well-being. With employees working “on the go”, far beyond their prescribed hours, this constant connectivity to digital devices and inability to switch off is causing an increased incidence of mental health problems like depression and anxiety in modern workforces.

Bombarded with information from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, employees are finding themselves overwhelmed, leaving them struggling to maintain productivity and meet deadlines. The onus therefore lies on HR leaders and employers to take tangible steps to support the mental health and wellness of employees, helping them to recognize and tackle technostress.

Like other forms of stress, technostress can have a significant adverse impact not just on an individual level but also on the business as a whole, leading to high absenteeism, poor performance, diminished productivity, poor time management, and high employee turnover. Technological information overload can leave employees struggling to manage both their priorities and time, triggering feelings of panic or guilt which can metamorphose into mental health issues in time.

The term “technostress” was first used by the author Craig Brod in his 1984 publication Techno Stress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution. In the book, Brod described how computerized workplaces negatively impact workers, altering their attitudes and well-being considerably. Defining technostress as a modern disease caused by an inability to cope with new technologies healthily, Craig Brod’s book explains how the disease manifests itself as a struggle to adapt and catch up in a computerized society that transforms people into a machine-like state.

Published almost 40 years ago now, the book was written at the dawn of the full integration of computers into modern workplaces. Over the ensuing decades, technostress has increased in prevalence, perniciously blunting employee wellbeing and performance.

Encompassing the tension, anxiety, and distress that come with adapting to and implementing new technology, technostress impacts employees working across a variety of different industries and work models, from office workers to remote employees.

Technostress affects employees in five key ways:

  1. Techno-overload, with advances in information technology paving the way for an overwhelming stream of information, leaving workers inundated by a barrage of work-related emails and text messages, with LinkedIn messages and app notifications creating added stress.
  2. Techno-complexity, forcing employees to get up to speed with new work management systems within strict timelines, in some instances with insufficient training and placing pressure on workers to utilize new tech models.
  3. Techno-invasion, with smart devices becoming increasingly accessible, blurring the lines between work and personal lives and leading to an extension of working hours that becomes unhealthy.
  4. Techno-insecurity, as the rapid advancement and expansion of technology creates fear in workforces that employees may one day be replaced by AI-driven tools.
  5. Tech uncertainty, overwhelming employees with frequent tech upgrades and placing pressure on workers to transition from one work management platform to another within short timeframes. This often requires workers to expend considerable effort learning new skills that could ultimately become obsolete as soon as the software is upgraded or replaced.

In the digital age, recognizing and mitigating the impact of technostress is crucial for both employees and employers alike. For individuals, digital detox strategies such as practising mindfulness, taking regular breaks, engaging in physical activities, and setting boundaries for technology use can all help to reduce the impact of technostress.

Employers also have a responsibility to address technostress, with forward-thinking organizations increasingly adopting preventative measures such as promoting a balanced work-life culture, providing adequate training for new technologies, and implementing “right to disconnect” policies. It is, after all, crucial for companies to consider the human factor when implementing new technologies, focusing not only on operational efficiency but also equally prioritizing the health and well-being of an enterprise’s greatest asset: its employees.