New communication channels, from WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram to Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging, offer organisations more ways than ever to communicate with employees. These channels create an opportunity to break out from the straightjacket of ‘send email, put up poster, hold briefing meeting’.
But this world of super-connectivity isn’t pure utopia. With most employees now depending on their phones and a range of apps to manage their customers, colleagues, family and friends during the working day, the line between work, home and play is blurring. The constant beep, ping, nudge and vibrate of electronic communication requires employees to be always ‘on’.
According to research, 58% always check their phone the instant they get an alert for an incoming text or email, and 38% of employees almost always feel anxious when they do not have their mobile phone on their person. No wonder technostress is becoming a growing challenge in the modern workplace.
What is technostress?
The term was first used by clinical psychologist Craig Brod in 1984. He described technostress as “a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new Computerworld technologies in a healthy manner” . The term encompasses a wide range of reactions, including fear of looking silly when trying to use new apps or terminology, anxiety about contacting strangers electronically, concerns about risks from viruses and spyware, stress at having to cope with multiple tasks, and fear of being unable to meet expectations on response times.
Acknowledging technostress is important because we know that stress has a negative impact on productivity. One study found, for example, that it can cause inefficiency, a high turnover rate, absenteeism, poor work quality, increased healthcare spending and low job satisfaction. The same study also showed that increasing job stress reduces employees’ commitment to the organisation.
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So how do you exploit the communication advantages of modern technology without ramping up employees’ stress levels? Following a few simple rules can help you avoid overloading staff and causing unforeseen consequences such as poor productivity and job dissatisfaction.
How to dial down the stress for employees:
Don’t forget the power of face-to-face With so much digital choice, it’s all too easy to overlook the obvious – face-to-face communication. Our experience shows that employees are crying out for genuine face-to-face communications – time to meet and connect with their managers and engage in conversation. Face-to-face communication has the advantage of being physical, verbal and visual all at the same time, so it’s easier and less stressful for people to decode the messages and take on board the real meaning.
Realising the benefits of new communication channels without ramping up employee stress is about communicating in a way that reduces anxiety and overload. Some employees will find just the thought of digital technology stressful, so communications need to give people a greater sense of personal control. They need to be designed carefully so that people have to invest less effort to get the message. Most importantly, organisations need to avoid looking foolish by getting it all wrong, like an uncool mum or dad – employees are pretty unforgiving.
Jonathon Hogg is a people and talent expert at PA Consulting Group
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