The dark side of digital work: how technology is making us less productive

Digital technology has certainly paid off for businesses, leading to a proliferation of uses and channels, spiraling into the world of work. But the pace and scale of the transformation has been much greater than we might have imagined and is beginning to strain our human capacities to cope with it.

From a series of studies, we have accumulated evidence of a ‘dark side’ of rapidly emerging computing: technological stress, technological overload, dependence on technology and the misuse of technology. information about the workplace. The very qualities that make computing useful – reliability, convenience, ease of use and speed of processing – can also hurt people’s productivity and well-being.

“Technostress” comes from our feeling of being forced to multitask quickly on information flows from different devices, of having to constantly learn to use constantly changing computing, and the feeling of being linked to. our devices with no real division between work and home. A survey of 600 IT professionals, for example, found that 73 percent feared that not being constantly connected to their workplace would put them at a professional disadvantage. Many employees reported feeling ‘addicted’ – spending an average of 23 minutes a day responding to business emails when they are home and feeling pressured to stay in touch and work while commuting, weekends and even public holidays. Another aspect of the dark side is that employees can knowingly – or unknowingly – abuse their company’s IT resources and compromise IT security. It is very difficult to prevent an employee who has granted access to a system from obtaining confidential company information and selling it to third parties, naively using unlicensed software or opening an email. containing a virus.

The more time and effort employees spend keeping abreast of ever-changing applications and struggling to swim through information overloads, the less productive they are at work. They are more likely to be hasty and rushed in the way they process information, with less time for thoughtful analysis, thinking about issues and problems, which makes people more likely to think about it. ‘stick to routines and what they know. Technostress also affects relationships with people who generally have less time for clients, partners and colleagues, who are too distracted by the pull of screens. Excessive use of computers can harm the well-being of individuals and organizations. We have found cases where employees quit because they found it too stressful to deal with the learning required to use evolving computer applications.

Is there a way out? Perhaps to begin with, employers and organizations just need to take a step back and assess these potential risks of digitization, and think more in terms of the ‘conscious’ use of IT, of this. what’s going on, how does it affect people and how can there be more balance? Organizations have traditionally taken a technical approach, helping their employees to use IT “better” or “better” with technical “training” materials or sessions. What is needed is a larger, more integrated set of policies, developed with input from senior leaders in both IT and non-IT functions. Of course, they must include technical approaches such as dashboards that allow employees to track and limit their IT, or automatic security measures such as blocking questionable attachments. But more importantly, they should include non-technical actions such as digital mindfulness, such as programs to educate employees on responsible use of information technology, raise awareness of potential side effects, encourage balance. work-life and providing resources and support to deal with things like technological stress. .


Monideepa Tarafdar, Professor of Information Systems and Co-Director of the HighWire Doctoral Training Center, Lancaster University Management School, www.lancaster.ac.uk/lums. “The Dark Side of Information Technology,” co-authored with John D’Arcy (University of Delaware), Ofir Turel (California State University) and Ashish Gupta (University of Tennessee) was published in Sloan Management Review, Winter 2015.

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About Donnie R. Losey

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