Employees are feeling more and more stressed by technology but how can businesses help?
Technostress – the stress or psychological impact caused by the use of technology – is a growing workplace concern. Rapid digital transformation, shifts between remote and in-person work, and the after-effects of the pandemic are all making it harder for employees to disconnect. As a result, they are experiencing burnout, decreased productivity, and mental health concerns. This has put pressure on employers to provide support to help address the problem.
Employee burnout from increased use of technology is becoming more prevalent, says Dr. Stephanie Moynihan, associate medical director at Dialogue. Part of the problem is that people are on devices all the time, both at work and during personal time, “and it’s something that is not necessarily going to get better with time and the development of new technologies.”
When it comes to technology, people are overloaded. “Technology causes them to feel pressured to do more work and do it faster. There is also an invasion component where people feel like they need to be constantly connected,” says Moynihan. On top of that, she says people are intimidated by technology because it continuously evolves and they have a hard time keeping up.
“What we've seen with technostress is anxiety and techno fatigue, which includes listlessness and depressive symptoms and that will, in turn, affect employees’ emotional attitudes. They can get very irritable and down and develop negative attitudes. Some might get involved in pleasure-seeking behaviours.
“We also see a physical component with eye strain, back pain, and headaches which people may not realize are related to the use of technology.
“These symptoms affect presenteeism, whereby employee productivity goes down, they are less attentive, and they lose their time-flow during the day. And then when it gets more severe, it leads to absenteeism where people actually miss work or take time off.”
Moynihan says to address technostress, there are things that employers can do and things that employees can do. “The first step in anything is just recognizing that there is a problem.
“Then, we know it's that constant and overwhelming use of technology that is the main driver, so we have to find ways to take breaks and to reset boundaries. For example, something that we see a lot is the blurring of the lines between home life and work life. People are always reachable, always on, so we need to put limits to separate home and work life.
“As well, employers can do things like end meetings five minutes early so people can take a break, try not to put too many meetings back to back, and integrate in-person contact with no phones.”
Employers also need to set different expectations. Employees need to know that if they receive an email while at home, that they are not expected to answer it on personal time, for example. Employees can also set up their own boundaries.
Employers can also encourage their staff to implement healthy habits for their own mental health. Whether they offer a wellness program or education on wellness, supporting employees to exercise, meditate, eat well, and spend time with family and friends will help them to deal with the stress. In fact, research shows that 150 minutes of exercise per week has a big impact on decreasing overall stress.
As far as wellness programs, it is important for employers to offer something that is easy to access so employees will use it. “New wellness type programs expand into a more preventative approach.”
Ultimately, “it’s important to be proactive because that will make the biggest difference over time,” says Moynihan. “Employers can have a healthy culture where they offer challenges or different initiatives to promote healthy habits. They must lead by example. Regular stress questionnaires will look at how the workplace is functioning. There is also the educational component. It is important to get people to recognize technostress in themselves and others.”