This article is authored by Matthew Whitfield, a career transition consultant at LHH.
Do you find yourself still glued to your phone, even with no emails to answer or no tasks to complete? Are you always on call for friends or colleagues? Is following technological developments no longer fun?
If you find yourself agreeing to any or all of these questions, then you might be suffering from technology-related stress, known as technostress.
We live in an era of unlimited technology. The pressure to be available and accessible has a severe impact on our health. People are either over-stimulated and trying to screen out or they have developed a tech hyper-focus and are unable to disconnect. Here’s what you need to know about technostress – and how you can manage it.
What is technostress?
The term technostress first appeared in Craig Brod's book (Brod, 1984) titled Technostress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution. The term refers to one's inability to cope with technology that results in distress.
Decades later, strong evidence now shows that new technologies have an adverse effect on human health. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) from computing to data management and the internet affect every aspect of 21st-century life. Long-standing boundaries between work and life blur as we move into a remote world, where disconnecting from what's going on around us feels almost impossible.
Moreover—and although we need to wait for more contextual studies about who is most affected by the pandemic remote work experiment—with COVID-19 and the sudden shift to remote working, there is no longer a clear dividing line between work and personal life.
At present, scientific research on technostress reveals that the negative psychological relationship with technology presents itself mainly in two different ways: people have a hard time understanding new technology (techno-anxiety), or they identify excessively with it (techno-addiction). We can break these down even further into techno-stressors such as techno-invasion, techno-unreliability, techno-complexity and techno-insecurity.
Technostress symptoms: Physical, emotional, behavioral, and psychological impact of technostress
Information overload and constant contact with digital technology devices and applications are responsible for an abnormal response to stress, with specific physical, emotional and mental symptoms. It is a type of stress, different from traditional stress, caused by technological changes. The inability of an individual to disconnect or to follow up with new technology demands is a growing issue that needs further research.
Nonetheless, scientists have already expanded the list of symptoms (concentration and focus problems, productivity challenges, body posture and muscle tension, insomnia) to include panic attacks, chronic fatigue, depressive disorders and general burnouts.
These symptoms have a huge impact on work-life balance and job satisfaction. Some degree of stress in our working lives is positive and a force of creativity, but after a point it takes its toll, affecting our health and performance (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908).
How to deal with technostress: It's time to log off
We live in a hyper-connected internet age where the instant rewards we receive while using technology make self-regulation difficult. For instance, we know that passive scrolling is unhealthy, yet we still find it hard to cut back.
According to an Ofcom report in April 2020, internet users in the UK spent an average of 4 hours 2 minutes online daily, a record figure and higher than just three months earlier, in January 2020.
Although today some more features and apps allow users to monitor their online time and take a break from being connected, there is evidence that people can't escape technology’s pressures. With the increasing use of smartphones and mobile applications our dependence has considerably grown since the first time the term technostress was used by Craig Brod.
However, there are a few things we can do to deal with technostress:
Set time for breaks and stick with them. This requires you to track the time you are in front of a screen. It's a win-win situation. You schedule for connectivity breaks while you become more aware of the time you spend connected.
Set time for social media. If you need to use social media daily, make sure you block notifications on your phone. For a more drastic effect, erase the social media apps from your mobile devices.
Turn off your personal device. Block unnecessary distractions when at work, when taking a break, and when going to bed. Practice switching off your phone multiple times during the day.
Reduce unnecessary communication. Filter out non-urgent messages and set time aside to answer once you have the time. This applies to both work and personal communication.
Write things down on paper. If you don't want to engage with yet another application or system to organise your tasks and thoughts, try the old-fashioned way of writing things down on paper.
Concentrate on one task at a time. Stop tech multitasking, close the multiple windows and focus on the task at hand. If you are working on Slack or another online project management group, create clear boundaries about when you will be reachable.
Technology training in the workplace. Training employees to understand how to effectively use (new) technology will prevent techno-anxiety and make employees more confident in their abilities.
Encourage employees to disconnect. Cultivating a culture of respect for one's free time away from work will help employees to improve their work-life balance, which in turn will boost their productivity.
Digital technology is a key source of change. Much of this is positive. For example, online communication has kept people connected while being physically apart during the pandemic. Technology is on our side. However, it can have adverse effects on people using it in an unhealthy way. In a world supported by technology, technostress will continue to affect people. We must learn to disconnect.