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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02569

Preventing Technostress through Positive Technology

 Eleonora Brivio1*, Fulvio Gaudioso1,  Ilaria Vergine1, Cassandra R. Mirizzi1, Claudio Reina1, Anna Stellari1 and  Carlo Galimberti1
  • 1Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy

1 Introduction
Over the past decade, the workplace has experienced significant changes as a result of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the subsequent digital transformation (Matt, Hess, and Benlian 2015; Mcafee 2006). Such technological, cultural, and organizational changes have redefined business models and competition. As evidenced by the shift from the Enterprise 1.0 to the Enterprise 2.0 business models, ICTs offer companies increased productivity and efficiency than competitors (Bilbao, Dutta, and Lanvin 2013). At the same time, introduction of ICTs can pose a threat to both a company and its employees through misuse, abuse, and overuse, resulting in technostress. (Gaudioso, Turel, and Galimberti 2017). This article aims to present the technostress construct and propose how Positive Technologies (Riva et al. 2012) can help prevent technostress and promote positive work experiences and general well-being through a more ideal organizational safety culture (Galimberti, Gaudioso, and Bacchini 2016; Galimberti 2014).
2 Technostress
Technostress was first conceptualized in the early 1980s as “a modern disease of adaptation caused by the inability to cope with new technologies in a healthy manner” (Brod 1984), which can result into non-acceptance of ICTs or excessive identification with the new technologies, resulting in both anxiety and stress. Today, technostress is considered to be multidimensional and defined as a “a negative psychological state associated with the use or the ‘threat’ to use new technologies”, which leads to “anxiety, mental fatigue, skepticism, and sense of ineffectiveness” (Salanova et al. 2007). The fundamental dimensions to technostress include:
- Techno-anxiety: the use of computers or ICTs that generates fear, apprehension, and agitation in the user; the feelings of uncertainty resulting when required to carry out an action on the ICT (e.g., pressing a button); and the related fear of losing information (Salanova, Llorens, and Cifre 2013).
- Techno-addiction: related to workaholism; appears when an individual is unable to disconnect from work-related ICTs (e.g., phone, computer, etc.), therefore continuing to, often compulsively, perform work-related functions outside of normal business hours (Schaufeli, Taris, and Bakker 2008); it can cause disconnection anxiety - the fear of being detached from the ICT device and information it provides (Elhai et al. 2016);manifests itself in an individual’s behavioral patterns such as constant anticipation of notifications, lack of control and/or difficulty in refraining from using ICTs, conflicts with other activities or tasks, and negative reactions to interrupted ICT use (Salanova, Llorens, and Cifre 2013).
- Techno-strain: perceived stress experience resulting from the use of new information technologies (Salanova, Llorens, and Cifre 2013).
Research shows that many factors contribute to technostress (Ragu-Nathan et al. 2008), including techno-invasion, techno-overload, techno-complexity, techno-insecurity, and techno-uncertainty. Techno-invasion, for example, is defined as constant connectivity, without boundaries of space and time, which maintains that employees are continuously available to work requests (Ragu-Nathan et al. 2008; Tarafdar et al. 2007; Gaudioso, Turel, and Galimberti 2017), Additionally, communication information overload (or techno-overload) results from employees’ receipt of information from multiple channels simultaneously. This information can be difficult to manage as it may be unclear how to prioritize or best use the information received (Tarafdar et al. 2007; Gaudioso, Turel, and Galimberti 2017). Another contributing factor is techno-complexity, the unpleasant feeling that the new ICTs are multifaceted and require tremendous effort to understand. Techno-insecurity is the perception that ICTs and the constant need to remain up-to-date can threaten an individual’s job (Tarafdar et al. 2007). Lastly techno-uncertainty causes perceived instability due to the evolving nature of the work and associated processes as well as constant introduction of new ICTs (Tarafdar et al. 2007).
Other contributing factors include: lack of support during testing, implementation, and use of the ICTs implemented by the company; discomfort and fatigue resulting from multitasking, as ICTs allow for completion of more tasks in a lesser amount of time (Ragu-Nathan et al. 2008); frequent interruption of assigned tasks due to the ongoing stream of communication (Mark, Gudith, and Klocke 2008). These stressors, together with a lack of personal coping mechanisms, create technostress in the work environment, placing both physiological and psychological consequences on employees. Proven physiological symptoms of technostress include fatigue (Salanova et al. 2007), irritability, insomnia (Porter and Kakabadse 2006) while psychological symptoms include frustration and perceived increased level of mental load and time pressure (Mark, Gudith, and Klocke 2008), skepticism, sense of ineffectiveness (Salanova et al. 2007), and reduction in job satisfaction and employee commitment, productivity, and work-life balance (Tarafdar et al. 2007). Technical and organizational support (Nelson 1990), employees’ involvement in the ICT implementation phase (Brod 1984), and appropriate communication management (Galimberti 2014; Galimberti, Gaudioso, and Bacchini 2016) allow for decreased technostress emergence in organizations, as well as encourage greater well-being and productivity.
3 Organizational safety culture
Because technological development and advancement is common is a multitude of organizations, companies must take technostress into consideration when establishing organizational cultures in order to best care for its employees and performance. Organizational culture refers to a set of processes, professional practices, explicit and implicit rules, regulation, conventions, and shared ways of thinking. When these elements concern risk and safety in the workplace, they define an organizational safety culture (Galimberti 2014). More specifically, safety culture is “the enduring value and prioritization of worker and public safety by each member of each group and in every level of an organization. It refers to the extent to which individuals and groups will commit to personal responsibility for safety; act to preserve, enhance and communicate safety information; strive to actively learn, adapt and modify (both individual and organizational) behavior based on lessons learned from mistakes; and be held accountable or strive to be honored in association with these values” (von Thaden and Gibbons 2008). Establishing exceptional organizational safety culture is vital, as it directly affects performance and profit (Butler 2016). These criteria emphasize that organizational safety culture is not only laws and regulations to be followed but also an overarching dynamic that concerns the well-being and productivity of individuals and groups. Safety culture therefore needs safety management systems to guarantee appropriate flow of information that allows for all employees to be up-to-date and with a shared culture of safety principles. Safety culture does not only include the transmission of information but also creation through exchanges amongst organization members. Communication is necessary for safety culture to properly exist. If communication is the mechanism through which safety is transmitted and created, then all individuals who communicate with the organization are key to the creation of its safety culture, which ultimately influences employees’ behaviors.
Technostress is a manifestation of a lack of safety culture. It is evident that any intervention to prevent or minimize technostress begins with the recognition that it is a factor which affects performance within the organization. Following recognition of technostress, attention to processes – both technological and communicative – should be modified or implemented to address any potential for technostress to arise.
4 A proposal: Positive Technology for technostress prevention and management
While there have been several attempts in organizations to counteract techno-stressors (Dello Iacovo 2012; Tarquini 2014); however, previous attempts were neither anchored in any theoretical framework nor preventive. Rather, such attempts were compensative, and their effectiveness was highly anecdotal. A scientific approach proven to be highly effective in producing positive change is Positive Psychology (Seligman 2002; Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000), with its derivative Positive Technology (Riva et al. 2012; Calvo and Peters 2012; Riva et al. 2014). Positive Psychology addresses positive experiences and how personal experiences can be leveraged to foster well-being and personal growth. Similarly, Positive Technology is “the scientific and applied approach to the use of technology for improving the quality of our personal experience” (Riva et al. 2012, pp. 70). Perceived quality of personal experience is occurs at three different domains: hedonic (technology is used to generate positive experiences); eudaimonic (technology is designed to support individual reach “engaging and self-actualizing experiences”); and social/interpersonal (technology helps improving connectedness between individuals or groups).
At the bottom of Figure 1, Positive Technology domains are shown, as designed by Riva et al. (2012) (bottom part of the figure). At the top of Figure 1, the corresponding elements of organizational culture safety actions that can generate positive experiences in companies and minimize technostress are shown. It is possible to note that organizational cultural actions mediate between organizational outcome and the use of technologies. All three domains of personal experience effected by Positive Technology are as follows:
- Hedonic: the individual level. Positive emotions can be induced if the technologies are well designed and compatible to the employee’s role within the company. With the appropriate training, employees using technologies that generate positive emotions could experience a reduction of techno-anxiety and perceive the work requests as fitting their role, therefore avoiding techno-overload.
- Eudaimonic: an ICT within a work setting can generate an effect at this level if design and employee training are performed accordingly. Even the most complex ICT can be perceived as easy-to-use with sufficient training. The key for a eudemonic experience is balancing employees’ abilities with the technology that supports the task to be completed. If the task and the technology are more complex than the employee’s training and abilities then techno-complexity, techno-insecurity, and techno-uncertainty can occur, ultimately resulting in technostress.
- Social/interpersonal: many organizations are moving towards systems to exploit collaborative intelligence processes (Lee and Lan 2007); that require the employees to communicate with each other. A well-designed positive technology, relative to work processes, must support social presence, the perception that others are present in the same digital environment and have a specific intention or task (Triberti, Brivio, and Galimberti 2018), and intersubjectivity, the process to reach mutual comprehension and application (Galimberti 2011). At this level, it is important that individuals share the same set of rules and regulations about how, when, and what is appropriate to communicate. There may be communication management systems embedded in the technology itself to aid in avoidance of techno-overload and techno-invasion.
All indications refer both to Positive Technology-inspired productive ICTs and stand-alone technologies designed to intervene in work contexts in order to generate positive experiences for counteracting technostress or its related techno-stressors.
5 Conclusion
This study aimed to present technostress as a new field for the Positive Technology approach, which has only recently been applied to real-world contexts. Positive Technology can be considered as a proactive solution for organizations and companies who seek to increase their employees’ well-being and prevent technostress. This is not without limitations, as some ICTs found within companies cannot be designed stimulate the hedonic, eudemonic, and social/interpersonal levels of personal experience separately. All the levels contribute to employees’ well-being and other organizational outcomes as well as to prevent technostress. Positive Technology experts can contribute to the design of such technologies and interventions directed towards technostress. Another limitation is that this framework currently remains theoretical and requires implementation and observation in the field. Field research is possible but may pose such challenges as design and implementation within an organization in a short amount of time.
Conditions necessary for this approach to work is for companies, their employees, and Positive Technology experts to work together in designing new ICTs or modifying existing systems to include work processes that support such technologies. Without appropriate collaboration, technologies will induce technostress rather than preventing it. As for any technology or process introduced within an organization, Positive Technology must be designed according to the organizational safety culture to which it will belong and contribute.

Keywords: Technostress, organizational safety culture, Positive technology, Enterprise 2.0, Well-being

Received: 30 Jul 2018; Accepted: 30 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

ROSA M. BAÑOS, University of Valencia, Spain

Reviewed by:

Pascual Gonzalez, University of Castilla La Mancha, Spain
Nicola Mucci, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Brivio, Gaudioso, Vergine, Mirizzi, Reina, Stellari and Galimberti. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Eleonora Brivio, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy, eleonora.brivio@unicatt.it