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While many enterprises are still trying to assess the impact of digital transformation on the organization, there are growing concerns that technology overload is causing too much stress on the workforce, or to be more precise, technostress. But exactly are we talking about here?

Technology and Technostress

“Technostress is a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new computer technologies in a healthy manner. This disease may manifest itself in the struggle to accept computer technology, and by overidentification with computer technology. Those who struggle to accept computer technology often feel pressured to accept and use computers. This pressure may cause headaches, nightmares, or resistance to learning about the computer.”

While this could have been written yesterday, it comes, in fact, from a book by Craig Brod written in 1984 called Technostress, which looks at the personal and professional upheaval being experienced by people around the proliferation of computers in the workplace during the 1980s. Technostress is, it seems, nearly 40 years old, if you discount the stress induced by the introduction of new technologies to the workplace since the industrial revolution of the 18th century.

Magdalena Żurawska, a human resources expert at Livecareer, describes technostress as a disorder and the result of the development of new technologies. This process occurs so quickly that the human brain, although a highly plastic organ, is simply not able to keep up with changes and altering old and familiar neural pathways. “So, the new ways and technologies in our environment can be perceived as threatening until the brain gets used to their presence and develops ways to deal with them,” she said.

New technologies are deployed in the digital workplace and it would be all good, if we were always able to use them properly. Instead, employees experience anxiety and a FOMO disorder (fear of missing out), that in extreme cases can lead to panic attacks, prolonged stress, drop in motivation and burnout.

It doesn’t mean we should drop new technologies, it just means we should focus on providing smart solutions,” she added. She has three recommendations in this respect:

  • Don’t experiment: Introduce technologies that are approved and work well. Instead of introducing five different technologies, seek one that offers the most features and covers the job of five technologies.
  • Plan: Introduce changes and innovations gradually and be realistic about what’s possible.
  • Proper training: Make sure you offer proper training to familiarize your employees with new technologies and allow time for adjustment. 

Related Article: Information Overload Comes in 3 Flavors: Here's How to Combat It

Failing Technology

Recent research carried out by Simpler Media, parent company of CMSWire, found in fact, that many organizations are struggling with new technologies. A survey of 463 executives representing organizations ranging from those with less than 100 employees to those with over 50,000 executives, found that apart from email, most were not entirely happy with digital workplace technologies. The report, The State of the Digital Workplace 2019, reads: “Digital workplace tools are failing users, creating a huge disconnect between their strategic importance and operational effectiveness.”

Take the example of enterprise search. The survey found that 66.3% of respondents regarded it as “very important,” but only 10.5% believed was “working well.” In fact, over half of all organizations felt their search “needs work.” Mobile service availability and mobile enablement also rated as both highly important and ineffective.

Digital workplace tools are failing users, creating a huge disconnect between their strategic importance and operational use. In fact, only one tool and technology had more than one fifth of organizations stating it was “working well” and shockingly that was email, a technology generally considered to be overused and inefficient. Hardly surprising, then, that digital workers are stressed. Employees today have tools to help with everything from communication to engagement to recognition, but not many of them are actually working as they should.

Too Many Tools

Mike Couvillion, CTO at Kazoo, said with the increase in workplace technology comes an important question: Are employees being overloaded with all these tools? If companies are looking to implement a new tool or technology, they need to first understand what problem they are trying to solve and whether it can it be solved by something they already use. “If you're providing your employees with too many tools that they are required to use, they can reach a point of technology fatigue and may not adopt the new tool your company just invested a lot of money in — no matter how much easier or more enjoyable it may make their job,” he added.

Companies also need to understand what success looks like. Whether it's working with the technology company to get baseline stats pre-launch and revisiting the numbers every quarter to check engagement levels, or setting company goals for the tools yourself, there needs to be some way to measure the success of your workplace tools and keep a pulse on employees’ feelings of tech overload.

Once companies discover what technology tools work best for them and communicate with employees what tool should be used in specific circumstances, there are a lot of advantages to having so many options at our fingertips. “These tools add significant value by connecting all employees — especially remote workers and teams spread out across multiple (and even global) offices — and also create a better work environment where employees can feel engaged and connected, but not overwhelmed by all of the technology and tools available,” he said.

Related Article: Collaboration Hubs May Be Bad for Your Health

Tools Are Not the Problem

The truth is the introduction of new technologies itself does not hold back the digital workplace. It's supposed to enhance it, but it can hold back the most important thing in any workplace: the people, said Roger Maftean, a career strategy expert at Resume lab. “Especially among older generations, the introduction of new technologies can be a dreadful and exhausting process. Try teaching a bird who’s lived his entire life in a cage how to fly outside during a storm. Yeah… not easy,” he said.

In younger generations, however, the rate of assimilation of new technologies can be extraordinary. So, the one thing to have in mind when introducing new technologies (apart from their usefulness or cost, obviously), is to understand whether your team is the proper “audience” of such technologies.

“If yes, then expect new technologies to have a positive impact on your workplace. But if instead of generations XYZ you’re dealing with "boomers" I wouldn’t bother too much. You’re just going to ruin Bertha's life and yours,” he said.

The Price of Advancement?

Technostress is a price we collectively pay for the endless pursuit of advancement, more efficiency and ROI, according to Pete Sosnowski, VP of people at Zety. With the world certainly moving even more in that direction, there’s no going back. You either learn the new platforms and at least keep up, or get left behind and lose your edge in the marketplace. In other words, it’s a bit of a necessary evil. Far from ideal, potentially ADHD causing and simply annoying to others. Nonetheless, when you have nine different services (software/platforms) specializing in various aspects of your day-to-day duties, well it behooves the company to invest (in at least the most essential ones), and up to the employee to adjust and learn them.

“Of course, compromises could and should be made sometimes. If a platform that everyone is already familiar with, gets the job done well enough is there a point to switch and start from scratch for an extra 5%-10% of output. Perhaps, but not always,” he added.