Positive and negative effects of ICTs use: main evidence from psychological scientific literature.
The massive introduction of information and communication technologies (ICTs), partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and thus to increased use of remote work or working from home, has greatly impacted workers at various levels (personal, organizational, and professional).
According to Eurostat, 2021, more people started to work from home following the introduction of social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 12% of employed people aged 20-64 in the European Union (EU) usually worked from home, while this share had remained constant at around 5 or 6% over the past decade. In contrast, working from home was less common in the EU’s eastern and southern regions. In 2020, less than 5% of the workforce was usually working from home in both regions of Croatia, as well as in Cyprus, Latvia and Bulgaria (only national data available), in the vast majority of regions across Hungary and Romania (except for the capital regions) and Greece.
But, if ICT was designed to give us greater power, autonomy, and flexibility, why do we often feel (techno)stressed because of this technology? Why does the use of e-mail or the Internet sometimes cause discomfort, anxiety and physical discomfort?
While the use of technology undeniably has positive aspects, the effects on workers’ mental health should not be excluded.
Specifically, considering qualitative and quantitative international research related to the topic spanning from 2019 to 2022, we can see that there is a decrease in pain, fatigue, and stress levels. Moreover, there is an increase in productivity and life satisfaction; an increase in organizational performance; an increase in social and professional relationships; an increase in learning; an improvement in personal development; an increase in the level of work motivation; reduced conflict between work and home; increased work engagement; increased work performance; lower levels of time pressure; lower levels of conflict between work and family. On the other hand, unfortunately, research also generally shows a lower level of subjective well-being, a higher level of stress, increased conflict within the organization, a high level of psychological stress, and low psychological well-being.
According to Brod, “technostress”, or stress caused by technology, is defined as the negative psychological impact of technology on people. Technostress is an emergent psychological illness induced by an individual’s lack of ability to adapt to new technology efficiently.
Focusing on workplace settings, Salanova, Llorens, Cifre and Nogareda proposed a definition of the technostress experience at work as a “negative psychological state associated with the use or threat of ICT use in the future. This experience is related to feelings of anxiety, mental fatigue, scepticism and inefficacy”.
Most proposed definitions generally include psychological, physical, or behavioral tension responses to technostressors.
Tarafdar and colleagues using survey results from end users of ICT found that stressors associated with technostress encompass five conditions that end users face as a result of their organizational use of ICT.
- Techno-overload describes situations where ICT forces users to work faster and longer.
- Techno-invasion describes the invasive effect of ICT in creating situations where users can potentially be reached at any time, employees feel the need to be constantly “connected,” and there is a blurring between work-related and personal contexts.
- Techno-complexity describes instances where the complexity associated with ICT makes users feel inadequate regarding their skills and forces them to spend time and effort learning and understanding various aspects of ICT.
- Techno-insecurity is associated with situations where users feel threatened about losing their jobs to automation resulting from new ICT or to others who better understand the ICT.
- Techno-uncertainty refers to contexts where continuing changes and upgrades in ICT unsettle users and create uncertainty because they worry about constantly learning and educating themselves about new ICT.
Regarding psychological effects related to technostress, some studies have identified strains that represent individual responses to technological stressors. Nisafani and colleagues classify the strains into two categories: emotional strain and physical strain.
Emotional strain represents the psychological state of workers. An example of an emotional strain is emotional exhaustion, a condition in which a worker feels emotionally overloaded, irritable and fatigued. The other strains are harmful emotions, anger and anxiety. Another tension is work exhaustion, described by Kim and colleagues as “the depletion of emotional and mental energy needed to meet the demands of workplace duties.”
Physical strain captures the physical state of workers, such as eye strain and high cortisol levels; in fact, previous studies have shown that cortisol levels increase dramatically when people are subjected to technostress.
In addition to the psychological effects, technostress also impacts the work level.
In fact, according to a recent review of state of the art on technostress, it was found that technostress impacts personal and organizational issues.
The most widely discussed technostress impacts are productivity and job satisfaction.
Regarding productivity, Hung and colleagues (2015) use the law of diminishing theory. That is, while the use of technology could boost productivity to some extent, the extreme utilization of technology could produce an adverse effect.
Moreover, since job satisfaction is defined as an emotional reaction to work resulting from the evaluation of the work experience, with the high level of technostress, workers feel less satisfied with their jobs. Further, technostress hinders employee engagement in an organization and increases user resistance to using the new technology.
To cope with the consequences of technostress, individuals implement various coping strategies. They can be distinguished as problem-focused, emotion-focused and dysfunctional coping strategies.
To reduce work-related technostress, various studies address support from others, which seems to be a promising problem-focused coping strategy.
Commonly investigated emotion-focused coping strategies reducing technostress included distress venting and distancing from IT. Similar to IT distancing, digital detoxing behaviours can help reduce overload resulting from work-related ICT use when working remotely, as research from the COVID-19 pandemic shows.
Relative to dysfunctional strategies, we can say that they include behavioral and mental disengagement, denial, venting, and substance abuse. Such coping strategies may provide short-term relief but are often nonfunctional in the long run and may even be harmful to the individual.
Interestingly, employees seem to apply several coping strategies when experiencing increased technostress.
Employees, who coped with technostress in different ways, also rated their health and workability better and reported fewer difficulties in mentally detaching from work in their free time than those who only used a few coping strategies.
While Saxena and Lamest were startled by the absence of team-based coping strategies in their case study, Rohwer and colleagues demonstrate that coping strategies are usually examined at the individual level. Although some studies identified social support among colleagues as an important resource in coping with technostress, it was inquired at the individual level.
In conclusion, although technostress is a phenomenon that is bound to increase due to the growth of technology and also especially teleworking, unfortunately, there is still not much awareness about it at both the individual and organizational levels. Targeted initiatives at the national and European levels, such as EMPOWER, are fundamental to increasing knowledge and better managing this phenomenon while also contributing to spreading information about the appropriate coping measures that could be taken by individuals experiencing technostress.
Clara De Vincenzi
LUMSA PhD student,
LUMSA PhD student,
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