On a personal level most of us have experienced the phenomenon of tech-induced stress. Whether it's the never-ending pings from incoming messages interrupting your every attempt to relax, or that sinking feeling induced by your friends' perpetually glamorous social media feeds, we all know tech isn't just a convenient productivity booster -- it can also be a distraction or even an addiction.

No news there, but according to a fascinating recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review (free registration required), this "technostress" isn't just a personal issue, it's also a leadership challenge as well. In short, the article argues that employees' tech-related burnout is a boss's problem too.

This dark side of tech has multiple components, the authors write. Employees "feel forced to multitask rapidly on simultaneous streams of information from different devices simply because information feeds come at them in real time; remote work and flextime tether them round the clock to their devices and workplaces; and short technology cycles and pressures from IT vendors mean constantly changing interfaces, screens and functionalities, often without sufficient FAQs and help-desk support," they explain.

In addition, nearly half of your team might have a full-fledged addiction to their gadgets. "In a study of organizational mobile email users, we found that 46% exhibited medium to high addiction-like symptoms," they report. Yikes!

Why you should care.

That's not good news for your Candy Crush-addicted employee, but it's also bad news for you, according to the authors. Besides the humanitarian argument that being stressed out just stinks, the authors offer several more pragmatic rationales for leaders to take employee technostress seriously.

"The more time and effort employees spend keeping abreast of ever-changing applications, struggling through information gluts, trying to understand how best to navigate through and use IT, and making mistakes, the less time they have for the job their IT tools are intended to support," they write, adding that "the rush to respond to incoming information causes employees to process, hastily and ineffectively, only that information which is immediately available, rather than wait for the information they actually need to do the job. Such an approach can stymie innovation, which often requires unhurried and thoughtful processing of relevant, varied and, as far as possible, reasonably complete information."

What should you do.

If you're persuaded that tech-induced stress isn't just an individual problem, but also an organizational one, the question remains, what exactly should you do about it? The in-depth article offers loads of ideas, but here's an express lane version of the top suggestions:

  • Monitor it. Every businessperson knows the old management truism that "what gets measured gets managed," yet many leaders forget this essential truth when it comes to tech-related burnout. "HR leaders should work together with IT leaders to create programs and audit exercises to regularly measure and monitor the extent to which employees are plagued by these effects and are less productive, innovative, or effective as a result," the authors recommend.
  • Encourage mindfulness. Your employees shouldn't just use every possible app and gadget that they come across. They need to pick and choose carefully. Encourage them to do so. "Senior leadership should encourage employees to reflect on not only how they use IT from or at work, but for work, from anywhere," the authors state, suggesting "'mindful technology use events and practices such as 'email-free' weekday afternoons." (Research shows even small breaks from email can dramatically reduce stress.)
  • Help employees make the most of new tech. Don't just roll out new tools with cursory one-off training. Instead, help employees tinker, customize and troubleshoot over time. "Rather than keep installing systems and tossing them over to users, IT leaders need to remain engaged with users for significantly longer periods after implementing a system," argues the article.
Published on: May 29, 2015
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