Information and communication technologies (ICT) have long been used in the workplace and have recently seen a new boost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many workers are encouraged, and under the obligation, to use technologies: computers, software, virtual communication platforms, mobile applications. ICT makes work easier, but it can also be stressful and even harmful to health. In 1984, the term “technostress” was coined to define stress, anxiety and mental health problems related to the use of new computer technologies. This stress is generated in several ways: information overload, digital isolation, confusion due to complex interfaces, insecurity and uncertainty, or the feeling of having to be constantly connected.(1)
While some older workers are familiar, competent and comfortable with ICT, others may experience symptoms of technostress: sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, reduced performance, or isolation.
Are you "technostressed"?
What research tells us
A recent evidence synthesis of 62 articles focused on how to manage technostress at work.(2) The evidence synthesis revealed the three stress factors most frequently studied in the work context, namely "techno-overload," "techno-invasion" and "techno-complexity." Many studies have also identified other technology-related stressors, for example organizational or environmental stressors, which may interact with technology-related stressors and reinforce their negative effects.
Risk factors linked to the person
A person's characteristics, such as gender and age, can influence how they perceive and respond to stress. However, the results are contradictory: some studies found significant differences, others not. These contradictions can be explained by the nature of the work, professional experiences, skills, whether people are working full-time or part-time, their level of education, different attitudes and beliefs, etc.
For example, young workers accustomed to technology may not experience stress if they have to use a new software overnight, because they may feel competent and confident in their computer skills, unlike some other workers. However, young workers who use several media in their free time could experience stress that older workers may not experience.
What strategies can we put in place to reduce technostress?
Too much pressure, ambiguous roles, unrealistic demands, a lack of support or even a climate of competition between employees are factors that cause stress.
On the organizational side, employers must:
• ensure that the work climate is positive and does not place undue pressure on workers
• clarify everyone's roles and expectations
• share good practices and encourage mutual assistance between colleagues
• prevent employees from being overloaded with emails or feeling like they have to respond to demands on their personal time
• provide technical assistance service to employees.
Personal characteristics play a role in coping with stress. Studies show that older employees seem to have more effective coping strategies than younger ones for dealing with stress. It is proven that those who use multiple strategies have better health, better productivity and less difficulty drawing the line between work and personal time.
Strategies put in place to deal with stress can be:
• focused on emotions: for example seeing the bright side of things, being humorous, or "escaping" the influence of technology. Although they provide short-term relief for some, strategies like disengagement and denial are unsustainable in the long term and may be harmful.
• focused on problems: for example confronting uncertainties, making efforts to improve the situation, asking colleagues for help, following training, drawing a clear line between professional and private life.
If you are experiencing technostress, here are some strategies to try to better manage it:
- develop your skills and personal efficiency by following training
- demonstrate autonomy in carrying out your tasks and managing your time
- seek support from family, friends and colleagues
- limit the use of ICT outside working hours.
Everyone can experience stress at one time or another. Do not hesitate to consult your health professional if you feel that your stress becomes overwhelming and can't be managed.