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Does Technostress Inhibit Employee Innovation? Examining the Linear and Curvilinear Influence of Technostress Creators

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Dr. Shalini Chandra, Associate Professor, S P Jain School of Global Management, Singapore

The onslaught of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is revolutionising the business world. With the growing tech trend and excessive technology dependence, organisations often jump onto the bandwagon without realising the adverse outcomes of an increased workload and stress employees undergo. Though organisations recognise digital transformation as a critical business component, they often ignore the technostress built on the employees, neutralising the accrued benefits that employees gain from using advanced technologies.

Technostress is inevitable as employees must constantly adapt to new technological applications, functionalities, workflows, and skills required in this digital era. Work interruptions due to multitasking, unattended emails, busy servers, and connection breakdowns may result in significant psychological costs for employees, impacting their ability to innovate and perform well on the job.

Leading global corporations largely owe their outstanding business performance to successful employee innovation, and numerous studies have highlighted ICT-enabled employee innovation as a critical job outcome that influences business performance. Our research team, comprising me and two collaborators from France (Prof Shirish C Srivastava from HEC Paris and Prof Anuragini Shirish from IMT-BS), examined the influence of technostress creators on ICT-enabled employee innovation in depth.

Understanding Technostress Creators

The emergence and ubiquity of advanced technologies result in five kinds of technostress creators: techno-overload, techno-invasion, techno-complexity, techno-insecurity, and techno uncertainty. Techno-overload is a situation where new technologies force employees to work more and faster. Techno-invasion is a situation where technologies force employees to stay constantly connected and be available anywhere and anytime.

Techno-complexity is a situation where employees using complex computer systems at work demand time and effort to learn and understand new applications to update their skills. Techno-insecurity is when employees feel threatened about losing their jobs to those who better understand new and advanced technologies. Techno-uncertainty is when employees’ knowledge gets obsolete and non-operational because of fast-paced and continuous technological changes.

The Study

Businesses should understand how each technostress creator individually influences ICT-enabled employee innovation performance. To understand the role of technostress in employee innovation, our research team used the survey methodology to collect data. We distributed the survey questionnaire to senior-level organizational managers working in large corporations in Europe and Asia and regularly use ICTs to accomplish their professional tasks.

Findings of Our Study

We discuss the impact of each technostress creator individually. First, discussing techno-overload, we found that contrary to our expectations, techno-overload did not influence ICT-enabled employee innovation. Though employees may view techno-overload as a hindrance stressor, they could plausibly perceive techno-overload as an opportunity due to its enhanced controllability and desirability when cognitively evaluating the situation.

The mixed influence of techno-overload on employee innovation as an opportunity and a hindrance resulted in its non-significant impact on innovation. In addition, techno-overload exhibited a U-shaped relationship with ICT-enabled employee innovation. Thus, employees have confidence in their ability to counter threats and handle work overload at lower levels of techno-overload, thus exhibiting a negative relationship to employee innovation. However, increased techno-overload distresses the employees beyond a certain point and lowers innovation performance.

Next, discussing techno-invasion and techno-complexity, we found that both technostress creators negatively influenced employee innovation. They also exhibited a U-shaped relationship with ICT-enabled employee innovation such that techno-invasion and techno-complexity were negatively related to employee innovation until a certain point. Beyond that point, both techno-invasion and techno-complexity positively correlated with employee innovation.

Thus, techno-invasion facilitates creative thinking and innovation in employees as they experience enhanced control over their work and themselves. Similarly, techno-complexity, to a certain point, encourages employees to develop new skills and get adequate support and training to handle their jobs efficiently. However, beyond the point of reversal, both techno-invasion and techno-complexity cause distress to employees, thus reducing their innovative capabilities.

Next, discussing techno-insecurity, we found that contrary to our expectations, techno-insecurity did not have a negative linear relationship with ICT-enabled employee innovation. Instead, techno-insecurity showed a negative trend in its curvilinear relationship with ICT-enabled employee innovation. This implies that techno-insecurity remains a constant threat to employees, and they continue to perceive it as a hindrance stressor.

More techno-insecurity negatively influences individuals’ physical and mental health by increasing their burnout, reducing their job satisfaction, and reducing their work performance. Thus, techno-insecurity emerged as a socially evaluative stressor that individuals continuously interpret negatively.

Lastly, we found that techno-uncertainty is positively associated with employee innovation. Furthermore, though techno-uncertainty did not exhibit a curvilinear effect on employee innovation, the graphical trend was positive. The positive trend in the relationship between techno-uncertainty and employee innovation is because uncertainty is a determinant in any innovation process.

The new and rapidly changing technologies require employees to develop new technical skills and conceptualise new business opportunities for which they can apply their newly acquired technical skills, creating opportunities for employees to innovate using new technologies with the skills and knowledge these technologies demand. Because employees perceive techno-uncertainty as a challenge stressor, it leads to innovation performance, which explains why we found that techno-uncertainty positively influences ICT-enabled employee innovation.

Critical Takeaways for Organisations From This Study

Our study and its findings are helpful for organisations designing appropriate managerial interventions that consider how individual technostress creators influence employee innovation.

1. Organisations should continue to use advanced technologies at work to maximize innovation performance. However, organizations must change employees’ mindsets to inculcate a culture that appreciates techno-overload opportunities.

2. Techno-invasion may assist in employee innovation. Extending regular office hours offers flexibility and better control to employees and can enhance ICT-enabled innovation. However, to reduce the techno-distress due to techno-invasion, organisations should satisfy employees’ need for control.

3. Management should develop employees’ capacity for ICT-enabled innovation by offering skill development and technical training programs. Mentoring can be an essential strategy to connect employees to the organization, allowing them to learn from one another.

4. Employees will be willing to use new and complex technologies provided that organizations monitor not only technostress creators but also how employees interpret them. Organisations can do so periodically through appropriate organisational interventions.

In summary, management should not only provide a supportive environment for innovation but also conduct technostress-inoculation training programs that can alter how they perceive stress creators to reap the benefits that these stress creators can provide.

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