Christian Montag, psychologist: “Technostress” is when you think ‘I would like to destroy the computer’ | Technology
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Christian Montag, born in Cologne (Germany) 45 years ago, is Professor of Molecular Psychology at the University of Ulm and author of works and research on the influence of technology on the human mind. His broader field of research encompasses personality psychology, the study of individual differences that determine cognitive abilities, such as intelligence, or why we are more cooperative, extroverted, or anxious. And in this context arises the growing digitization of our lives, a phenomenon that, according to him, requires a multidisciplinary approach to understand its consequences, such as the new time management or the tendencies to leave employment and self-medicate. Montag has supported the development of a study (report Wellness and work from home 2022) by NFON, a European provider of integrated business communications in the cloud, based on a survey conducted by Statista Q, a specialist in data, analysis and market research, on 8,000 people from eight European countries.
Ask. What is the technostress?
Response. It is a term that has been introduced in the scientific literature a couple of years ago and came about when people began to deal with those situations that we all face and that are generated when technology does not work. When you think: ‘I would like to destroy the computer’, that is technostress. There have been studies showing how hormones can trigger hits to machines. We all deal with this in our daily lives and now with home offices we have a lot of new challenges that create technostress. Just think about the situation created by the pandemic, which forced many people to use video conferences or other types of programs for the first time.
P. But does that also happen in conventional workplaces?
R. True, but still, if we compare the situation at the beginning of the pandemic and the current one, we see a change: many people were not adequately prepared from a technological point of view to have a home office that works properly. Digitization is a problem when the internet connection is not working properly or is too slow or you simply have very old equipment at home. Many people have had to renew their devices out of necessity.
P. 28% of those surveyed say they work more and, on the contrary, 36% say they have more time to spend with their family.
R. It is the paradox of working at home. On the one hand, they feel that they work more, that the workload intensifies and we spend more hours in front of the computer. But, on the other hand, they say they have more time for family or leisure. The key to explaining this paradox is that people no longer need to move, or at least do so less. For example, if they spent two hours a day commuting, now they can work half an hour more, but they have an extra hour and a half. They also gain flexibility to go to the doctor or shop, which used to be done on the weekend and took a long time. Now they can shop on Wednesdays, when there are not so many people in the supermarket. We are becoming more flexible in many ways.
P. Another surprising result is that for some (8.7%) eating at home is stressful.
R. Obviously there are different food cultures, but the main reason has to do with convenience. Not all of us know how to cook properly and we have to learn. Also, even a simple dish involves preparation or shopping and some people were not used to it.
Work is intrusive into everyday life and it’s really hard to disentangle the two, so this can be stressful
P. Self-medication has also increased. 34% of those surveyed say they have resorted to it to improve their well-being. Is it related to technostress?
R. If the human being experiences negative emotions, such as anger, fear and sadness, he tends to try to get rid of them because they feel bad. Therefore, the pretense of avoiding them represents a natural response. For some people, one of the ways to reduce the negative effect is self-medication. The covid has been a great stressor, to which has been added the situation in which we are working from home, facing the technostress. Additionally, some people were also stressed because they felt lonely not having a person to interact with during times of physical distancing. Likewise, in the survey we have detected that people have problems saying: ‘OK, here work life stops and my private life begins’. Work is intrusive into everyday life and it’s really hard to disentangle the two, so this can be stressful. Added to this are people who feel bad and who try to find an easy solution. Recent studies, beyond our work, also suggest that while some people cut back on alcohol during the pandemic, others started drinking a lot more. In the end, many factors, including one’s own vulnerability and resilience factor, play a role in understanding human behavior.
P. And he also sleeps worse. Up to 72.1% of those surveyed say they have taken melatonin to rest better.
R. Not surprising after the pandemic. If people fear or experience uncertain situations, they begin to ruminate, to think about things that worry them, which prevents them from getting the adequate amount of quality sleep.
Money, ultimately, is not the most important driver for choosing a job. There comes a point where a salary supplement does not make you happier
P. According to the study, 21.7% of European respondents (25.6% in Spain) state that they plan to resign due to their experience working from home and 9.9% have already left their job. Why?
R. We have already talked about various challenges arising from the new situation of the home office and also the problems arising from the pandemic that, from my point of view, partly explain why people decide to leave their jobs. One crucial variable not mentioned in the context of resigning is that many of the study’s respondents did not see a way to fulfill their own potential. On the other hand, we have more time. We must deal with it and find a way to be happier. In addition, the pandemic has also been an opportunity to reflect on life. Until then, many lives were automatic: getting up, working, taking care of children, housework, and sleeping. There wasn’t even time to think about misery. Now we have had more time to reflect and think. Breaking out of that automatism, we let our brains run wild for a moment, for mind wandering, and wandering leads to creativity and self-reflection. In this context, we saw in our study that some people have come to the conclusion that they do not want life as before, because vital energy is not infinite. We all strive to have a good life and not a bad one, right?
Some people have come to the conclusion that they don’t want the life they used to
P. Even if purchasing power is lost?
R. From my personal experience and that of others, I believe that money is ultimately not the most important driver for choosing a job. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman investigated, years before the pandemic, the associations between life satisfaction, well-being, and salary. There comes a point where a salary supplement doesn’t make you happier; maybe it makes you a little more satisfied with life, which is more the cognitive aspect, but it doesn’t really make you happier. If I were to investigate happiness, I would ask you how much you have danced, enjoyed in recent weeks and how much you have cried of sadness. If you ask about emotions, there comes a point where salary isn’t that important (according to Kahnemann’s work, the threshold is about $75,000 a year). From that moment on, happiness does not increase with more money and this is, I think, what many people intuitively know and accept that they have a decent salary and that what really matters to them is the family, that they want more time to that which is good. It will be really interesting to see if these perceptions endure when we are once again faced with the automatisms of everyday life, when we fall into the traps and patterns.
We talk a lot about the downsides, but obviously working from home has given a lot of people a lot more degrees of freedom to deal with the hassles of everyday life and also to spend more time with family, but getting the job done
P. What should companies and workers do in the face of the new reality?
R. We talk a lot about the downsides, but obviously working from home has given a lot of people a lot more degrees of freedom to deal with the hassles of everyday life and also to spend more time with family, but get the job done. We need to combine the best of both worlds. Work from home is going to stay. But our study also reflects a deep longing to meet and see colleagues, to have real social interactions beyond virtual encounters. There is a study that analyzes videoconferencing fatigue, associated with exhaustion and this way of interacting. Currently, it is argued that videoconferencing fatigue may be triggered by anxiety about being constantly monitored and showing oneself in front of screens (mirror anxiety or being dissatisfied with one’s own facial experience). Also, interaction with others is limited to the frame of the screens. This is not healthy. That tires, to which is added that it is really difficult to detect emotions in our interlocutors through the screens. We need, from time to time, to see each other again in person and also have a good time. It is the link that unites people and is important to develop trust between them. Combining elements from both worlds will be a solution for companies and the rest of society to develop an adequate plan for what our working life will be like in the near future.
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