In recent years, digital technologies have been transforming workplaces and increasing economic productivity. But could overuse of information technology now be sapping your employees’ — and your organization’s — well-being?

Information technology has long been viewed as the power behind a new economic revolution — an evolving set of tools that has made workers much more productive than ever before, powering a step change as dramatic as steam or electricity. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, “digitization boosted world economic output by nearly US$200 billion and created 6 million jobs in 2011.”1 On a company-by-company basis, a number of studies have found that companies that use more IT have higher productivity than their competitors.2 However, we may be entering an era in which human frailties begin to slow down progress from digital technologies. In a series of studies, we explored the implications of IT-induced technology stress, technology addiction and IT misuse in the workplace. (See “About the Research.”) One implication of our findings is that the very qualities that make IT useful — reliability, portability, user-friendliness and fast processing — may also be undermining employee productivity, innovation and well-being.

After observing a number of organizations, we found that this rapidly emerging “dark side” of IT hurts employees and their organizations and robs companies of some of the productivity gains they expect from their IT investments. In this article, we describe key negative effects of IT use in the workplace, explain the risks they pose, and suggest ways managers can mitigate their impact.

The Effects of “Technostress”

Pervasive and near-continual use of organizational IT systems is now beginning to take a toll on some employees’ health.

References

1. B. Bilbao-Osorio, S. Dutta and B. Lanvin, eds., “The Global Information Technology Report 2013” (Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 2013), vii.

2. E. Brynjolfsson and L.M. Hitt, “Computing Productivity: Firm-Level Evidence,” Review of Economics and Statistics 85, no. 4 (November 2003): 793-808; and E. Brynjolfsson and A. McAfee, “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2014), 98-106.

3. While stress due to IT use in the workplace is an emerging phenomenon, workplace stress due to organizational roles and tasks is well-known; see, for example, R. Kahn and P. Byosiere, “Stress in Organizations” in “Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology,” vol. 3, 2nd ed., ed. M.D. Dunnette and L.M. Hough (Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1992), 571-650.

4. T.S. Ragu-Nathan, M. Tarafdar, B.S. Ragu-Nathan and Q. Tu, “The Consequences of Technostress for End Users in Organizations: Conceptual Development and Empirical Validation,” Information Systems Research 19, no. 4 (December 2008): 417-433.

5. A. Gupta, R. Sharda, Y. Dong, R. Sharda, D. Asamoah and B. Pickering, “Improving Rounding in Critical Care Environments Through Management of Interruptions,” Decision Support Systems 55, no. 2 (May 2013): 516-527.

6. Addiction to “thrill-producing” technologies such as social networking sites and mobile email is a growing problem for which the workplace implications are just beginning to be understood. It is different from substance addiction, about which, for example, see T.E. Robinson and K.C. Berridge, “Addiction,” Annual Review of Psychology 54, no. 1 (2003): 25-53.

7. O. Turel, A. Serenko and N. Bontis, “Family and Work-Related Consequences of Addiction to Organizational Pervasive Technologies,” Information & Management 48, no. 2-3 (March 2011): 88-95.

8. E. Dockterman, “Candy Crush Saga: The Science Behind Our Addiction,” Nov. 15, 2013, www.time.com.

9. Saint, comment on L.J. Williamson, “‘Candy Crush Saga’ Gives Addicted Mobile-Game Players a Sugar Rush,” May 25, 2013, http://herocomplex.latimes.com.

10. For example, see Verizon, “2008 Data Breach Investigations Report,” 2008, http://verizonenterprise.com.

11. J. D’Arcy, A. Hovav and D. Galletta, “User Awareness of Security Countermeasures and Its Impact on Information Systems Misuse: A Deterrence Approach,” Information Systems Research 20, no. 1 (March 2009): 79-98.

12. J. D’Arcy, T. Herath and M.K. Shoss, “Understanding Employee Responses to Stressful Information Security Requirements: A Coping Perspective,” Journal of Management Information Systems 31, no. 2 (fall 2014): 285-318.

13. M. Tarafdar, E.B. Pullins and T.S. Ragu-Nathan, “Techno-stress: Negative Effect on Performance and Possible Mitigations,” Information Systems Journal, in press, published electronically July 24, 2014.

14. Ragu-Nathan et al., “The Consequences of Techno-stress”; and Turel, Serenko and Bontis, “Family and Work-Related Consequences.”

15. T. Lewin, “Chevron Settles Sexual Harassment Charges,” New York Times, Feb. 22, 1995.

16. G. Laasby, “Target Data Breach Started With Phishing Malware Email at Contractor,” Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Feb. 12, 2014, www.jsonline.com.

17. M. Riley and D. Lawrence, “As Data Breach Woes Continue, Target’s CEO Resigns,” May 5, 2014, www.businessweek.com.

18. See N. Kakabadse, G. Porter and D. Vance, “Addicted to Technology,” Business Strategy Review 18, no. 4 (winter 2007): 81-85; and J. Fitzgerald, “Lawsuit Claims Addiction to Internet Is a Disability,” Seattle Times, Feb. 19, 2007.

19. J. D’Arcy and G. Greene, “Security Culture and the Employment Relationship as Drivers of Employees’ Security Compliance,” Information Management & Computer Security 22, no. 5 (2014): 474-489.

20. K. Stuart, “German Minister Calls for Anti-Stress Law Ban on Emails Out of Office Hours,” August 29, 2014, www.theguardian.com; P. Oltermann, “Germany Ponders Ground-Breaking Law to Combat Work-Related Stress,” September 18, 2014, www.theguardian.com; T. de Castella, “Could Work Emails Be Banned After 6 p.m.?,” April 10, 2014, www.bbc.com; and “Volkswagen Turns Off Blackberry Emails After Work Hours,” December 23, 2011, www.bbc.com.

21. Turel, Serenko and Bontis, “Family and Work-Related Consequences.”

22. D’Arcy, Hovav and Galletta, “User Awareness of Security Countermeasures.”

23. Ibid.

24. Gupta et al., “Improving Rounding in Critical Care Environments.”

25. B.J. Fogg, “Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do” (San Francisco, California: Morgan Kaufmann, 2002).

26. Gupta et al., “Improving Rounding in Critical Care Environments.”

27. P. Khanal, A, Vankipuram, A. Ashby, M. Vankipuram, A. Gupta, D. Drumm-Gurnee, K. Josey, L. Tinker and M. Smith, “Collaborative Virtual Reality Based Advanced Cardiac Life Support Training Simulator Using Virtual Reality Principles,” Journal of Biomedical Informatics 51 (October 2014): 49-59.

28. See, for example, D’Arcy and Greene, “Security Culture and the Employment Relationship.”

29. H. Li, A. Gupta, X. Lou and M. Warkentin, “Exploring the Impact of Instant Messaging on Subjective Task Complexity and User Satisfaction,” European Journal of Information Systems 20, no. 2 (March 2011): 139-155.

30. Such individuals have “polychronous” personalities; see J.M. Conte and J.N. Gintoft, “Polychronicity, Big Five Personality Dimensions and Sales Performance,” Human Performance 18, no. 4 (2005): 427-444.

31. M. Kajzer, J. D’Arcy, C. Crowell, A. Striegel and D. Van Bruggen, “An Exploratory Investigation of Message-Person Congruence in Information Security Awareness Campaigns,” Computers & Security 43, (June 2014): 64-76.

i. The 14 studies are: Ragu-Nathan et al., “The Consequences of Technostress”; M. Tarafdar, Q. Tu, B.S. Ragu-Nathan and T.S. Ragu-Nathan, “The Impact of Technostress on Role Stress and Productivity,” Journal of Management Information Systems 24, no. 1 (summer 2007): 301-328; M. Tarafdar, Q. Tu and T.S. Ragu-Nathan, “Impact of Technostress on End-User Satisfaction and Performance,” Journal of Management Information Systems 27, no. 3 (winter 2010-11): 303-334; Tarafdar, Pullins and Ragu-Nathan, “Technostress: Negative Effect on Performance and Possible Mitigations”; O. Turel, M. Mouttapa and E. Donato, “Preventing Problematic Internet Use Through Video-Based Interventions: A Theoretical Model and Empirical Test,” Behaviour & Information Technology, in press, published electronically July 7, 2014; Turel, Serenko and Bontis, “Family and Work-Related Consequences”; O. Turel, A. Serenko and P. Giles, “Integrating Technology Addiction and Use: An Empirical Investigation of Online Auction Users,” MIS Quarterly 35, no. 4 (December 2011): 1043-1061; D’Arcy, Hovav and Galletta, “User Awareness of Security Countermeasures”; D’Arcy, Herath and Shoss, “Understanding Employee Responses to Stressful Information Security Requirements”; D’Arcy and Greene, “Security Culture and the Employment Relationship”; Kajzer et al., “An Exploratory Investigation of Message-Person Congruence”; Gupta et al., “Improving Rounding in Critical Care Environments”; Li et al., “Exploring the Impact of Instant Messaging”; and Khanal et al., “Collaborative Virtual Reality Based Advanced Cardiac Life Support Training Simulator Using Virtual Reality Principles.”