How to Go From Technostress
to “Tech: No Stress!”
As a public health worker in our increasingly digital world, you understand the value that technology can have in your work with clients and communities. Technology can provide us with means of collecting, managing, analyzing, and reporting data; reaching and communicating with clients; and more. However, technology can also be a source of stress, as you may know first-hand. And although experiences of stress can be positive (think of the adrenaline rush that might accompany a welcome challenge or an exciting new opportunity), we tend to experience stress related to technology as distressing and having negative effects. With technology-related stress, or technostress, these negative effects can be wide-ranging, impacting us physically, cognitively, and emotionally.
In this post, we will explore technostress in the context of public health work, examine its contributing factors, and discuss its harmful effects. Finally, we will describe three solutions to look for in data management systems that can help prevent or alleviate the problem so that you can focus more effectively on making a positive difference in the lives of your clients and communities. First, let’s acquaint ourselves with the concept of technostress.
Simply put, technostress refers to the psychological and physiological strain we experience when we’re struggling to cope with the demands and complexities of technology use. For public health workers like you, who may rely on any number of computer platforms and programs for collecting, managing, analyzing, and reporting public health data, technostress can manifest for multiple reasons. It may arise from difficulties in navigating complex software interfaces, having to straddle data across multiple systems, dealing with technical glitches, or feeling overwhelmed by the continuous need to adapt to new tools and updates.
Now that we’ve defined technostress in the context of public health work, let’s examine three factors that can contribute to your experience of stress in relation to technology.
Contributing Factors to Technostress
Several factors can contribute to the experience of technostress among public health workers. We’ll cover three: cognitive overload, a lack of options for customizing and personalizing your system, and inadequate user support and training. We’ll review each below.
- Cognitive Overload. Cognitive load refers to the mental effort required to process information and perform tasks such as learning, problem solving and decision making. Cognitive load can turn into “overload” when data entry screens are overly complex or busy, when systems are confusing to navigate, or when the information you need is difficult to locate. These experiences can quickly lead to mental fatigue, frustration, and mistakes.
- Lack of Options for Customization and Personalization. Limited opportunities to customize a system – and correct a mismatch between your real-life workflows and a program’s “off-the-shelf” data entry processes, for example – can be a source of frustration and inefficiency. The same is true when you’re not able to personalize your experience of a digital platform, such as change the information or the order in which you see it on a dashboard. You may feel constrained, inconvenienced, and even disempowered by rigid, one-size-fits-all systems that don’t align with your organization’s unique needs and your own personal preferences.
- Insufficient User Support and Training. An inadequate onboarding process (for getting started with a new system), poor user training, and a lack of easily accessible help resources in a range of learning styles can leave you feeling stranded if you encounter technical issues or are struggling to understand a system’s functionalities. Learning and navigating sophisticated systems can be challenging with even the best support. A lack of support exacerbates technostress.
The experience of stress caused by these contributing factors – cognitive overload, a lack of options for customizing and personalizing your system, and inadequate user support and training – is a problem in itself, of course, but it can also have a range of harmful effects. Let’s turn now to some of the negative effects of technostress on your mental health, productivity, and client care.
Harmful Effects of Technostress
Technostress can have significant negative effects on both you and your ability to do what you do effectively. Here are just a few examples:
- Burnout and Mental Health Impacts. The difficulties of navigating complex software systems, dealing with data across multiple platforms, and having to adapt to new and evolving technologies without sufficient user support can contribute to feelings of burnout, anxiety, and a diminished sense of job satisfaction, even when the work is meaningful. Diminished job satisfaction can lead to increased absenteeism and turnover in organizations; as someone affected by technostress, you may find yourself looking for another job!
- Reduced Productivity. Technostress can hamper your efficiency and productivity, diverting valuable time and energy away from client-focused tasks and other important aspects of your work. You may get caught up in troubleshooting technology or struggling to navigate convoluted systems. Or, you may have to deal with data across multiple systems and rigid processes in these systems that do not match your organization’s workflows. All these distractions steal your focus from essential tasks related to client care and public health initiatives.
- Impaired Client Care. Technostress can hinder the timely and accurate delivery of care as you grapple with complex digital systems, technical glitches, or inefficient data management processes. These challenges can lead to delays in accessing critical information, compromised accuracy in data analysis, and increased potential for errors in decision making. As a result, you and your organization may struggle to provide optimal care to clients, which can compromise client’s health outcomes and their overall well-being.
Having reviewed these three problematic effects of technostress, let’s now shift our focus to practical solutions that can help public health workers mitigate the potential stress involved in using technology and enhance on-the-job effectiveness.
Solutions to Avoid and Alleviate Technostress
To help you and your organization mitigate technostress, here are three solutions to look for in your data management systems:
User Experience (UX) Design that Reduces Cognitive Load
- Simple and Clear User Interfaces. When you’re in the market for a new software system, look for a well-designed user interface that prioritizes simplicity and clarity, reducing the cognitive load you’ll experience in using it. When you can quickly and intuitively navigate through an interface, you are less likely to experience confusion or frustration.
- Consistent and Predictable Design. Also look for consistent design patterns, terminology, and navigation across a software platform. Some elements of consistency between a new system and its predecessor, or across multiple platforms you have to use, may be helpful. Predictable design elements help you anticipate how a system will behave, which makes it feel more intuitive and reduces your learning curve, resulting in a greater sense of confidence sooner, and potentially less anxiety.
Opportunities for Customization and Personalization
- Form and Workflow Customization. Seek out software systems whose developers provide options for your organization to customize any forms you need for data collection, and how these forms are organized in the system (the workflows), so that both elements align with your own organization’s needs, preferences, and processes. Options for such customization allow you to tailor the system to your organization, thus helping to improve efficiency and reduce the stress of using the system.
- Personalization Options. Look for features like dashboard widgets, personalized notifications, and display preferences. These elements empower you to create a digital workspace that suits your individual requirements and preferences, thus enhancing your control and eliminating the stress of having to contend with a completely rigid, one-size-fits-all system.
User Support and Training
- Expertly Guided Onboarding. Prioritize software systems whose companies offer a thoughtful onboarding process to guide you through getting started and learning about the functionalities and features critical to your organization’s success. Clear instructions and hands-on training will help you become proficient with the system, thereby reducing frustration and anxiety.
- Comprehensive Help Resources. Choose software systems that provide easily accessible help resources, such as phone, email, and maybe even live chat support. After all, different people have different preferences for how they prefer to make contact when seeking help. Additionally, look for software systems with comprehensive help pages, FAQs, video tutorials, microtrainings, and contextual tooltips to address your questions and concerns promptly. Different formats can be helpful in meeting a diversity of learning styles.
By using systems that incorporate user-centered solutions such as UX design that reduces cognitive load, opportunities for customization and personalization, and quality support and training when and where you need it, public health workers can avoid or alleviate technostress. When you avoid or alleviate technostress, you have more time and energy for the reason you got into public health: to make a positive impact in the lives of your clients and communities you serve.
Technostress can be a significant challenge for public health workers like you, who are increasingly using technology, and various forms of it, in your essential work. You may use technology not only to analyze and report on data, but to collect and manage it, both in the field and in the clinic. You may even have to use a different software system for different stakeholders or tasks, and so have data spread across multiple systems, adding to your potential stress. By seeking out (when you’re able) user-centered solutions such as simplified user experience design, customization options, and comprehensive user support, you can transform a potential experience of technostress into “Tech: No Stress!” With systems in place that reduce cognitive load, give you tools to control your digital experience, and provide robust support, you can spend more time focusing on your clients and less time feeling stressed about using technology.
Implementing the solutions above can be challenging to do on your own. To learn more about how we at Luther Consulting can help make your public health organization’s experience of a data management system as stress-free as possible, please contact us. We’d be glad to share the solutions we include in our client-centered public health data system, Aphirm®, to help you avoid and alleviate technostress for the sake of client care and better overall outcomes. You got into public health to make a difference. We want to help you do just that.
- What is Technostress? (+How to Deal with it)
- 4 UX Tips to Reduce Users’ Cognitive Overload and Burnout
- The Technostress Trifecta – Techno Eustress, Techno Distress and Design
- Designing for Mental Health: Creating User Experiences That Support Well-Being
- Mastering Cognitive Load Reduction in UX Design: Reducing Cognitive Load for Optimal User Experience