Critical Thinking

It Stress can lead to substantial demands on

It is widely accepted
that the use of technology in the workforce enhances productivity, efficiency,
and flexibility (Atansoff & Venable, 2017). Modern technology
allows workers to better organize their work, which can create the opportunity
for employees to balance their work and private life better (Ninaus, et al., 2015). However, the
pressure to be constantly available via technology constitutes a major source
of stress, which increases the risk of prolonged work stress and its adverse
consequences (ibid). Therefore, how these technologies are integrated and
managed by employees and the organisations is of paramount importance to ensure
they achieve their intended purpose and not have a negative impact. Ulrich
(1998) argued that the only way for an organisation to achieve competitive
advantage in an era of innovation and advancement is through the organisations
employees, wherein an organisation provides a better service than their competitors,
not through their product which has the potential to be copied, but rather,
through their superior workforce.  Therefore,
the management and the perception of technology in the workplace among
employees, will have a considerable impact on competitive advantage.

 

Work Stress

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            Stress can lead to substantial
demands on employees physical and mental health and well-being (CIPD, 2017;
Davies, 2005) which can impact employee behaviour, performance and
inter-personal relationships (CIPD, 2017). Work can have many positive effects
on mental health, it is a source of personal satisfaction and accomplishment,
interpersonal contacts and financial security. Alternatively, a lack of work
may have a significant negative impact on mental health (Harnois & Gabriel, 2000). Work stress is a
globally recognized health risk (Leka & Jain, 2010). Long term stress
can cause anxiety or depression which may lead to work absence, and tendency to
quit (Davies, 2005). Depressed workers take 1.5 to 3.2 more sick days than
other workers and are 20% less productive (Federal Institute of occupational
safety and Health, 2003; cited in Davies, 2005)

            Selye (1976) argued that a level of
stress is beneficial, whereby it motivates an individual to increase
productivity and meet deadlines, an environment in which some employees may
thrive. This argument is based on Selye’s perception that stress arises
whenever a demand is made on the body and states that “complete freedom from
stress is death!” (p. 137). The CIPD (2017) however, outline the difference between
pressure and stress. Pressure is an important aspect of work, to motivate
employees to act quickly and effectively and to meet deadlines. However, when
the level of pressure becomes excessive, it is counterproductive and leads to
stress.

            Stress can manifest in both physical
and mental forms. Research conducted by Paoli and Merlle (2001) found that 16%
of males and 22% of females suffering from cardiovascular disease in the EU is
a result of stress.

            Prevalence of work stress can result
in significant financial loss to the employer. A 2014 report by the Irish small
firm’s association found that absenteeism costs small business’ €490 million
per annum with back pain, anxiety and depression being the biggest contributors
(Small Firms Association, 2014).

 

 

Technology

Technological
advances have changed the world. As such, advances in technology have resulted
in people and organisations adapting how they work and operate to utilize such
resources (Kew and Stredwick, 2016). Innovations such as video conferencing,
cloud storage, smart devices and mobile working have allowed work to be
conducted across the world with an increase degree of harmony (Bertier, 2016). Technology has become fully
integrated into work and personal life (Day, Scott, and Kelloway, 2010).
Whereas other resources can disappear or be replaced, technology will persist
and grow (Kew and Stredwick, 2016). Therefore, managing such technologies and diminishing
potential negative consequences such as stress, is not just an issue for the
current nature of working practices but, rather, a challenge that will likely
persist well into the future.

            Technology in the workplace has been
heralded as a timesaver, however, the convenience of technology has resulted in
increased expectations of what can and should be achieved in the workplace
(Laspinas, 2015). Across industries employees manage and utilize technology in
their working life, regardless of occupation (Atansoff and Venable, 2017). With
this increased utilization and dependence on such technologies the successful
integration and management of such resources is paramount to maintaining an
efficient workforce.

            The term ‘technostress’ used to
describe technologically created stress has be defined by Brod (1984; cited in
Atansoff and Venable, 2017) as a “modern disease of adaptation caused by an
inability to cope with the new computer technologies in a healthy manner”
(p.327). Effects of technostress are akin to those of broader work stress such
as diminished job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and their outcomes such
as absenteeism and turnover (Atansoff and Venable, 2017).

            The causes of technostress are multifaceted,
with a range of causes and implications. Research conducted by Ninaus et al.,
(2015) found that all respondents identified the use of ICT’s as an additional
source of stress. Technology has caused many companies and job roles to
transition from a traditional eight hour working day into a twenty-four-hour
operation (Bertier, 2016). The ability for constant connectivity to work has led
to the perception or demand for employees to remain in constant contact with
their colleagues, superiors and clients. Such a phenomenon has resulted in an individual’s
ability to balance their work and personal life being inhibited (Ninaus et al.,
2015). This constant availability has also led to the need to constantly shift
focus, resulting in an inability to effectively focus on the actual task
(Ninaus, 2015; Atansoff and Venable, 2017). Derks and Bakker (2012) found that
the expectation of constant availability has led to an abundance of
work-related ICT use outside of working hours, which decreases an individual’s
ability to mentally distance themselves from work and leads to work related
exhaustion. Ninaus et al., (2015) suggests that constant availability may be a
result of an inner obligation rather than an organisational demand. Richardson
and Benbunan-Fich (2011) found that dissemination of mobile technology by
employers leads to employees having a self-imposed perception of the need for
constant availability.

Increased workload is another theme which emerges in the literature on
technostress (Laspinas, 2015; Ninaus, 2015; Atansoff and Venable, 2017). Perhaps
as a manifestation of the inner obligations for constant connectivity outlined
above and the increased expectations of what can and should be achieved in work,
ICT use is often linked with increased workload. While increased workload is
associated with stress (Laspinas, 2015) in the research conducted by Ninaus et
al., (2015) it was suggested that if the benefits of ICT use are greater than
the disadvantages, the increased workload is perceived as a positive and not
the supposed stressor typically associated with increased workload.

While the technology certainly plays a role in such stressors Grzywacz,
Almeida, and McDonald (2002) argue that burnout should not be considered as a
wholly work-related issue, rather, due to ICT use and the resulting blurring of
lines between work and personal life it should be considered with regard to the
individuals perception of whether ICT use is a means of improving work life
balance or as a means of conflict between the two.

Despite the many negatives associated with ICT used regarding stress, it
should be noted that in most cases despite the negative aspects ICT use improves
efficiency and makes work life easier (Ninaus et al., 2015). While many
negatives persist in relation to ICT use improved communication, instant
accessibility and increased flexibility are several benefits of using such
resources (Bertier, 2016).

 

Stress-strain-outcome model

Technostress and
its outcomes can be examined through the conceptual framework of the
stress-strain-outcome model proposed by Koeske and Koeske (1993).

            Within this model stress is
identified as a catalyst for strain which is an antecedent for various
outcomes. With regards to this study the stressor can be conceptualised as the
use, perceived overuse, or the inability to properly use technology which will
then result in the strain of technostress. Thereafter, the outcomes can be
identified.

            When technology usages increase,
whereby the user becomes more dependent on the technological resources, stress
becomes exacerbated (Boonjing and Chanvarasuth, 2016). Koeske and Koeske (1993)
describe strain as ‘burnout’ whereby considerable effort is undergone in an
attempt to fulfil tasks that may then impact on the individual’s life. The
widespread integration of mobile technology in society has resulted in
individuals regular need to handle an abundance of information technology and
communications, in which quick responses are expected (Ragu-Nathan et al.,
2008). With regard to outcomes, as mentioned previously, stress can manifest in
several physical and psychological forms, of which ICT related stress is a
contributing component (Stadin et al., 2016).

 

Conclusion

Technologies relationship
to work stress is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Technology as shown above
is a significant contributor to the prevalence of work stress, which effects
both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the individual (Davies, 2005).
In addition to the negative effects on an individual level, the prevalence of
technostress has adverse implications for the business through lost
productivity and absenteeism (CIPD, 2017). Through the stress-strain-outcome
model outlined above the role of which technology plays in work stress can be
further examined.

            Despite the negative aspects of technology
discussed in this paper the numerous benefits of ICT use have made technology
an essential component of organizational structure. Therefore, it is imperative
that organizations find a way to minimise the occurrence of technostress to
achieve competitive advantage.

 

Research Question

The research
questions for this study ‘Personal technology and workplace stress: A
comparative analysis of different age demographics in the Irish workforce and
its implications for the employer’ has been formulated to gain an understanding
of technostress within the Irish context from an age demographic perspective
and to examine how different age groups experience technology use in work and
the prevalence and factors leading to stress for the different demographics,
and how this will impact the on organizations.

Research Objective 1

The initial
objective of this research is to determine what forms of work stress can be
identified within an Irish context. While an assumption can be made that
experiences of work stress will be relatable to the broader existing research
and literature on the subject, for this research to be valid within the Irish
context evidence must be collected to confirm these assumptions and highlight any
divergence from previous literature.

Research Objective 2

The core
objective of this research will be concerned with analysing how technology can
both create and reduce stress. This research will seek to examine previous
literature with particular reference to the stress-strain-outcome model (Koeske
and Koeske, 1993) and analyse it against the experience of Irish workers from
an age demographic perspective.

            Drawing on previous literature it is
the hypothesis of this research that the younger ‘native’ technology user’s
experiences will differ significantly in comparison to the older demographic, particularly
in areas of inner obligation and perceptions of work demands. This study
supposes that in areas such as obligations to work outside of working hours
after disseminations of mobile technology from their employer (Richardson and
Benbunan-Fich, 2011) that the younger demographic will feel less of an
obligation that a generation where this was not an expectation.

 

 

Research Objective 3

The final
objective of this research will seek to create a foundation of recommendations to
be considered when seeking to reduce technostress for both the individual and
the organization. This will be achieved through drawing on both insight from
respondents and analysis of the areas in which respondents identified as
stressors and benefits of ICT use. This data can then be reference back to existing
literature.

 

Methodology

 

In framing a
methodological approach for this research both qualitative and quantitative
research methods have been considered. Within the current academic literature
both quantitative and qualitative methods have been used to examine work
stress. The quantitative approach takes numerical analysis of variables, whereas,
a qualitative approach focuses on descriptive data gathering that accepts
multiple realities through studying a small group in greater depth (O’Leary,
2014).

A cross-sectional, questionnaire based quantitative study was considered for
this research. This method would allow determination of any correlation between
technology, its overuse, over reliance, or inability to effectively use such
devices and its relationship to occurrences of work stress. However, due to
work stress being such a complex issue with technostress being just one
contributor (Stadin et al., 2016; cited in Atansoff and Venable, 2017) and the
vast number of variables that influence it, the option of cross-sectional
analysis was deemed not the most effective manner in which to conduct this
research.

For the purpose of this research a qualitative approach shall be taken. A
key component leading to the choice of qualitative over quantitative analysis
is the realisation from the literature that the perceptions and inner
obligations are an overriding forced linked to the occurrence of work stress.
Therefore, to gain a proper understanding of these perceptions semi-structured
interviews shall be utilized. This method will allow an in-depth exploration of
the respondent’s perceptions and experiences of technology and work stress and
is, this research would argue, the most suitable method of data collection.

Merriam (2009) notes that through following a qualitative research
approach the key concern is gaining an understanding of how people interpret
their experiences, and what meaning they attribute to them. Through taking a phenomenological
approach to this research a key aim is to discover and understand the lived
experiences of respondents in relation to ‘technostress’ in order to gain
sufficient information to make recommendations for minimising such occurrences.

Sampling

As stated in the
research objective the main focus of this research is to examine ‘technostress’
from an age demographic perspective. For the purpose of this research two age demographics
will be examined 21-35 and 45+ while still in full time employment. The reason
for these two age demographics is through an attempt to show any stark
differences, whereas an intermediary demographic 36-44 would likely fall
between the two and result in much time being spent collecting the data.
Therefore, due to the time constraints for submission of this research the
decision was made to examine just two age demographics.

            The research will be carried out
with six to ten respondents, while ten would be preferable, due to time
constraints and potential scheduling issues with respondents six interviews
will be satisfactory. It is the aim of this research to have respondents
equally distributed between the two age demographics.

            The criteria of the sample in
addition to age is being in full time employment for a period of at least one
year to ensure adequate experience of the topics discussed. Given these criteria
and the need for speedily gathered information, convenience non-probability
sampling will be utilized. With respondents being obtained through personal
contacts. While other forms of sampling may yield more generalizable data, the
need for efficiency in this study has led to convenience sampling being the
chosen method.

Interview Process

The method of
data collection for this research will be through conducting semi-structured
interviews. It is the aim for these interviews to last approximately 60
minutes. The rational for choosing semi-structured interviews is its ability to
ask open-ended questions in which further elaboration may be gained on arising
topics that are not contained within the interview guideline (Silverman, 2014).
In addition to further elaboration, semi-structured interviews enable the
interviewer to build a rapport with the interviewee. Interviews will be
conducted in a place of the respondent’s convenience, however, an informal
setting such as a coffee shop is preferable.

            A pilot study will be conducted in
the event that a suitable number of respondents have been obtained. In the
event of no amendment being necessary this interview will be included within
the collected data.

Data Collection and Analysis

Prior to
commencement of the interview all respondents will be given an explanation of
the research and provided with the interview guideline for their review. The
interviewees will be recorded and these recordings will be used later for
analysis. Each interview will be conducted face to face however, video
interviews will be made available to respondents if they choose. During the
interview process notes may also be taken in addition to the recording to aid
in analysis.

            Following the interview transcripts
of the recording will be made and each interview will be given initial analysis
shortly after its conclusion. Following the completion of the interview stage
themes will be identified and examined in relation to the research question and
extant literature.

Ethical Considerations

Prior to the
commencement of the interview the interviewee will be presented will a consent
form in which they will sign upon approval. Any data collected will omit any
names, companies or other identifiable traits as to ensure
confidentiality.  All recordings and
transcripts will be kept secure with only the researcher having access.

            Respondents will be informed of
their right to not answer any question they do not wish to and have the ability
to remove themselves from the study at any time.

            Given the nature of the research
topic and its link to mental health particular care must be given to ensure no
distress is caused by the process.

Research Limitations

 Several Limitations arise from the chosen
means of research which need to be made note of. Given the time limitations of
this research only a small sample may be obtained in which to conduct this
study, therefore results arising from this research may have limited
generalizability to the intended field of study. Bias is also another
limitation that must be considered, while ideally no bias should be apparent in
the research process, consideration must be given to underlying perceptions of
the research topic. 

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