The impact of digital stress at the workplace

Findings from a Germany-focused study has relevance for organizations around the world: One-fifth of all employees experience strong digital stress at work. The consequences: Digitally stressed people consider changing jobs, perform worse and have higher job dissatisfaction.

Its consequences affect employers and employees alike

Findings from a Germany-focused study has relevance for organizations around the world: One-fifth of all employees experience strong digital stress at work. The consequences: Digitally stressed people consider changing jobs, perform worse and have higher job dissatisfaction. This is the result of a study carried out with the participation of the University of Bayreuth (Germany) scientists. The research team interviewed 5,000 employees.

How high is digital stress in Germany, what influences it, and who is particularly at risk? This was the question the scientists wanted to ask for the project "Prevention for safe and healthy work with digital technologies" (German study acronym: PräDiTec) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. They identified twelve different digital stress factors. These include, for example, the perceived need for omnipresence, the feeling of constant availability, and expected shorter reaction time due to the dissolution of the boundaries between work and private life.

Every third person surveyed is exposed to at least one of the stress factors to the extent that they felt the stress “strongly” to “very strongly”. Interruptions and distractions caused by digital media were also perceived as stressful. In addition, the study found that many people now feel that they are a "transparent person" because they see their privacy threatened by the professional use of digital technologies and media.

Employees in innovative companies are hit the hardest

An employee’s digital stress "does not occur without consequences for the employer,'' warns Professor Dr. Torsten Kühlmann, head chair for Personnel Management at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and president of the university’s Business Research Centre for Medium-Sized Business Issues (German acronym: BF/M). He explains that “employees with strong digital stress report more frequently on their difficulty to switch off from work. They often think about changing jobs or occupations and perform worse. They are also more dissatisfied with their job." 

The researchers explained that digital stress is usually accompanied by social conflicts at work, high emotional demands and a high quantity of work. "Interestingly enough, employees in innovative companies who are characterized by creativity and willingness to take risks are also affected by greater digital stress," adds Dr. Kühlmann.

Prevention through organizational factors

"The rapidly advancing presence in our professional life by digital technologies and media brings many opportunities, but also substantial risks and disadvantages," summarizes Prof. Dr. Nils Urbach, Professor of Business Informatics and Strategic IT Management and member of the Business Informatics project group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT, Germany.

He emphasizes: "Organizational and social factors can counteract digital stress at the workplace. This includes, for example, allowing for greater maneuvering space with regard to work-related decisions and a good relationship with superiors.”

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