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Nowadays, hardly any of us can work without digital media any more. After all, smartphones, laptops and co offer the option of being able to access a large volume of information at will. Needless to say, we are also able to act promptly. But that’s exactly where the crux of the matter lies: according to the study “Gesund digital arbeiten?!”(Is working digitally healthy?) published by the project Prävention für sicheres  und gesundes Arbeiten mit digitalen Technologien (Safe and healthy work practices for digital technologies, PräDiTec), one in five employees experiences major digital stress as a result of their job. For their study, a consortium of scientists from the Project Group Business & Information Systems Engineering Fraunhofer FIT, the Research Centre on Business Management for Questions of Medium-Sized Companies (BF/M Beyreuth) and the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) interviewed over 5,000 employees.

The researchers identified a total of twelve different stress factors: some of these included the perceived need for continuous online omnipresence, of having to be constantly available, and the assumption of being expected to react more quickly – all due to the blurring of boundaries between work and private life. It is not just interesting to note that one in three respondents is exposed to at least one of the stress factors, ranging from high to severe, but also that almost one in five employees experiences very high levels of digital stress due to a stress factor. Interruptions and distractions caused by digital media are also perceived as stressful. In addition, many people now feel that they are a “transparent person” because they see that their privacy is threatened by the professional use of digital technologies and media.

Consequences also for employers

“That does not come without any consequences for the employer either,” warns Prof. Dr. Torsten Kühlmann, holder of the Chair for Human Resources and Management at the University of Bayreuth and President of the Research Centre on Business Management for Questions of Medium-Sized Companies (BF/M Bayreuth):

” Employees with severe digital stress more often say that they have problems switching off from work. They often think about changing jobs or occupations and are not performing as well. They are also more likely to be dissatisfied with their job.”

Furthermore, researchers found that digital stress is usually associated with social conflict in the workplace, high emotional demands and a high workload. The consequences are exhaustion, irritability as well as psychological impairments and even go as far as musculoskeletal disorders.

“Interestingly enough, employees in innovative companies which are characterized by creativity and willingness to take risks are also affected by greater digital stress,” says Kühlmann.

” Rapidly advancing integration of work life with digital technologies and media brings with it 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 Project Group Business & Information Systems Engineering at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT.

Workaround via organizational and social changes

But not every workplace that is equipped with digital technologies causes digital stress to the same extent. The combination of the number of digital technologies and media used and the intensity of use influences stress. It is highest when there is a large number of different technologies that are only used to a limited extent. This is because the skills and knowledge required to use the technologies are more difficult to maintain owing to the low level of use. Anxiety is on the rise.

But there is also a workaround:

” Organizational and social factors are able to counteract digital stress in the workplace. These include, for example, more freedom to make work-related decisions and establishing a good relationship with superiors,” Urbach emphasizes.

The BFM project team is currently working on recommendations for measures based on their findings. More concrete prevention measures for counteracting the phenomenon of digital stress are to be presented by the end of 2020.

The interim report entitled “TechnoStressReport” will be presented and discussed as a live stream on September 4, 2019 from 4 p.m. onwards. Participants in the discussion will include Prof. Dr. Henner Gimpel from the Fraunhofer FIT Project Group Business & Information Systems Engineering and Guido Fuhrmann, Head of Human Resources Germany at Deutsche Bank. The live stream is aimed at specialists and managers in the modern world of work. Further information can also be found here.