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Why Tech Stress is a ‘thing’ and how to deal with it

Buffering, a frozen screen or loss of connection mid Zoom – if you’re among the four in five people (84%)1 working from home who have experienced an unreliable internet connection in the past 12 months – you’ve probably experienced tech stress.

Zen Internet has teamed up with cyber psychologist Dr Linda Kaye to explore how much effect the loss of connectivity can have on our mental and physical wellbeing and why we often experience feelings of stress – on top of the many other stressful elements of our busy lives – when we can’t get online or when digital devices fail us.

“The stress and frustration you are feeling, because of these technical issues, is actually underpinned by a threat to our basic human psychological needs!” Dr. Linda Kaye, cyber psychologist

 Dr Kaye explains: “Within a wireless, internet-enabled society, a majority of people are, more or less, ‘connected’ all the time. This connectivity has given us the freedom and flexibility to work from home for the past 12 months, but it can also have its drawbacks – especially when things go wrong. If our ability to undertake work effectively or efficiently depends on good connectivity, then what happens when there are technical failures?

“Internet cut-outs, poor broadband speed and bandwidth issues, amongst other things, can easily derail a working day. But you may not realise that the stress and frustration you are feeling, because of these technical issues, is actually underpinned by a threat to our basic human psychological needs!”

So why does a poor internet connection make us stressed?

Dr Kaye continues: “As human beings we have three basic human needs: competence (to feel able), relatedness (to feel connected or to belong) and autonomy (to have choice). Internet failures may thwart all of these to some extent or another and, as a result, can be a cause of significant stress and frustration.

“When it comes to feeling that we are good at our jobs, if we’re unable to complete work tasks which are dependent on us being online, our perception of our own abilities may start to be compromised; we feel incompetent or believe that others will think we are not able to complete our work to the highest standards.

“This in turn, could also be a threat to our status in an organisation and how reliable we are perceived as a co-worker or employee.

“Poor internet connectivity can make us feel out of control and experience a lack of autonomy. If our internet connection drops out mid-way through an important work meeting, this can bring on a sense of helplessness and stress.

“Technology failures may also be compromising our feeling of belonging. Being unable to use video chat due to bandwidth issues can restrict our ability to feel fully connected with colleagues – especially at a time when we are working so disparately and in isolation from our team members.”

How to handle tech stress

Dr Kaye advises: “It has been a period of unprecedented uncertainty and for many of us we have had to completely re-navigate the way we communicate with our work colleagues and external clients and suppliers, as well as family and friends! This in itself is stressful but if technology failures are also adding to the stress of your working day, then take some steps to help manage the situation.

  • “Be up front: Let your manager and colleagues know that you have been having intermittent internet issues and this is causing you concern. Make them aware that if you do freeze or drop out of the meeting then you will reconnect as soon as possible.
  • “See if you can just use audio: It is also worth considering whether live chat must always occur via video-chat, or whether a phone call could be just as effective. WiFi calling via phones is still an essential communication tool – something which has perhaps been overlooked in the rush to connect ‘visually’. Regular calls, or turning cameras off, rather than video chats, could also function as a more “social catch-up” rather than “work meeting”. Use these to discuss any current concerns and stresses by talking them through with peers or a manager.
  • “Ask for support: Ultimately any employer should have their employees’ satisfaction and well-being front and centre when working from home. Technology has given us the tools to work remotely which is a great thing, however if poor internet connectivity is causing stress – it is an employer’s responsibility to find solutions to this issue if they want a happy workforce. Talk through your home working needs with your employer and look at ways that they can support the technical issues that you are facing.”

Technology has played a crucial role in our sense of connectivity and belonging over the past 12 months and its benefits far outweigh the negatives. But now is the perfect time to step back, breathe and realise that some things aren’t in our control. The impact of any forms of stress are important to recognise and by speaking out we hope that everyone can find ways to reduce issues brought on by technology.

Other advice for dealing with tech stress

Ayshea Robertson, People & Culture Director at Zen Internet said: “All sources of stress can impact on our wellbeing. While we ( actually consistently top league tables when it comes to reliability and broadband speed, we accept that any loss of connectivity can be frustrating and in some cases have a negative effect on customers.

“As well as striving to offer the best service possible, we also want to support Stress Awareness Month. We take our people’s health and wellbeing very seriously here at Zen and have a comprehensive health and wellbeing strategy in place. From our mental health ambassadors to a number of support channels we ensure our people can access help or advice should they need it. It is now more important than ever before that we watch out for any signs of mental health issues our people may be experiencing now that the workforce is operating from their respective homes and we don’t have that face-to-face time we are accustomed to.

Ayshea added: “Dr Linda Kayes’ advice is fantastic and we encourage all employees to talk about anything that is causing stress in the workplace and to ask for help.

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