The Human Cost of Digital Technologies (2016)

Pawel Korzynski, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, Manfred Kets de Vries

"Personailty and techno-stress"

While Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have many advantages, including simplifying our access to power and information (in the sense that we no longer need to be in the same country, let alone the same office, as the people we want to connect with). Executives, in particular, are finding themselves under increasing pressure from a barrage of email, phone and social media messages from a myriad of former, actual and future subordinates, clients, suppliers and business partners. This constant bombardment creates challenges of work overload, complexity, insecurity and feelings of invasion and uncertainty; in a word, burnout. We wondered: does personality type play a role in the way people cope with ICTs?


In 1984 the word technostress was coined to describe the nervous tension related to the (over) use of information and communication technologies. Subsequent research identified five creators of technostress, these being: techno-overload (situations with higher workload generated by ICTs); techno-invasion (the invasive impact of ICTs on personal life); techno-complexity (difficulty in learning to use ICTs); techno-insecurity (situations in which users’ jobs are threatened due to ICTs); and techno-uncertainty (related to new ICT developments).


Techno-challenges of the 21st century


How people respond to rapid technological advances, and the negative impact they experience from spending so much of their time “connected”, varies according to the individual. To find out more, we asked people to complete two questionnaires. The first one captured their perceived level of technostress, and the other was the Personality Audit, a 360° feedback survey that looked at personality traits. We analysed the responses from 49 self-rated technostress surveys, and 152 observer-rated Personality Audit questionnaires, to identify specific personality traits that factor into the human cost of digitisation and came up with some surprising insights.


Personality and ICT reaction


Most interestingly perhaps, we found the degree to which we see ourselves as being affected by some form of techno-stress or techno-invasion, is often very different to how others assess our performance. In other words, other people often don’t see how stressed we really are.


From a personality perspective, analysis of data suggests that introverts benefit from the use of ICTs and experience lower levels of techno-invasion. The same applies to pseudo-extraverts - that is, introverts who have learned to exhibit extraverted behaviours when necessary. It is possible that ICTs allow pseudo-extraverts to communicate with a broader audience without having to physically participate in large social gatherings. In addition, their preference for building authentic relationships with a smaller number of people may mean that although pseudo-extraverts can choose to be visibly active and present through ICTs, they are more strategic and selective about their availability.


Amongst other personality types; the more highly extraverted an individual is the more likely he or she will suffer from techno-overload. A high observer score on the dimension of ‘adventurousness’ is associated with a high self-reported level of techno-overload. Meanwhile people with high self-esteem are less likely to suffer from techno-insecurity - the stress brought about by fears they will lose their job to individuals with greater technical skills and pseudo-conscientious individuals (those whose observer rating on the dimension of “conscientiousness” is higher than their self-rating) have a lower level of techno-invasion. Highly conscientiousness people, on the other hand, are more likely to have higher levels of techno-insecurity, suggesting that ICTs may have a negative influence on the well-organised work life of fastidious individuals.


We found respondents in the study who made themselves constantly and readily available through ICTs were more likely to be impacted by “techno-invasion”. On the other hand, people who regularly used ICTs, but at their own discretion, were less negatively impacted by techno-invasion. Why are some people able to control the way they use ICTs, whereas others seem to fall into the “availability trap”? Looking at personality traits, it appears that pseudo-conscientious people and pseudo-extraverts are better at using ICTs more strategically. People with these personality traits are more skilled at managing availability, thereby reducing their feeling of techno-invasion.


Matching character traits to communication strategies


Most importantly, our study suggests that instead of implying that people have to be available 24-7, or setting rigid, organisation-wide norms for availability, leaders would do better to help people understand their individual preferences, and allow them the flexibility and training to best adapt their own optimal way to use ICTs. In this way people will see ICTs as helpful tools that come with options and choices, rather than an additional source of stress and anxiety.


This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge. Copyright INSEAD 2017” 

INSEAD Knowledge, 2016

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