Many of us will have seen the famous scene in the 1999 movie Office Space where Peter, Michael and Samir (played by Ron Livingston, David Herman and Anjay Naidu) went to a secluded field to destroy their workplace printer with a baseball bat — in slow motion, of course.
For those who have seen it, this scene is not just etched into our memories for its cinematic mastery, but because so many of us have wanted to take an item of workplace technology and destroy it with a baseball bat (or cricket bat) at one time or another.
Nowadays, it’s not just temperamental printers that can aggravate us and cause stress in the workplace. Nearly everything we need to do our jobs is packed into our computers, laptops and phones. And within them are a myriad of apps, processes, never-ending software updates and systems to navigate.
This modern workplace technology can impact our mental health via two main avenues. The first stems from our struggles to switch off from our tech-reliant work and the other derives from the sheer frustration and confusion technology can cause us when it lets us down.
Find the off switch
A survey from global HR think-tank Reventure concluded that 73% of Australian workers feel constantly connected to technology and cannot completely shut off from it. So, that’s almost three-quarters of the workforce that feel like they cannot turn work off, and are checking emails and thinking about work around the clock because they feel connected to their devices.
If you feel like you can never switch your computer or mobile devices off and if you are constantly refreshing your email screen, there are numerous things you can do to help you switch off from technology at work.
- Step away
During the day, get away from the computer and get moving. Exercise releases endorphins, which help to motivate and elevate our moods. You can even put headphones on and hold a meeting while walking. The key here is to get away from your desk – even if your desk is at home – and get away from your computer screen.
- Seek real connection
Humans are social animals and too much technology fuels disconnection and an over-reliance on technology. Consider that not all meetings need to be on Teams or Zoom, and face-to-face meetings can get you away from the computer and aid social connections with your colleagues.
- Turn it off
Make a conscious effort not to check your work email or take calls when you’re not in work hours. Sometimes working overtime is unavoidable, but separating home and work life on a regular basis will help reduce your time dealing with tech.
- Build healthy tech habits at home
Sleep is a critical ingredient for wellbeing, and technology impacts your sleep. Regulate when you stop looking at your phone or digital device in the evening, and then don’t let your phone be the first thing you turn to in the morning. Having set times when all technology is turned off, like at the dinner table, can also be beneficial. These home technology habits can naturally begin to mirror how you use your technology at work too.
Employers also need to be alert to the warning signs of tech overload. Look for drops in productivity, unexplained absences and changes in your team member’s behaviour. For leaders, discuss and agree on boundaries with your team members. Agree on what’s reasonable and talk about how you will handle calls and emails received outside set work hours. You want to ensure enough time for your team to switch off from work and their technology.
Handling tech rage and confusion
As we know from the movie Office Space, ‘tech rage’ has been around for a long time. Whether you’ve sworn at your computer or physically assaulted it (ie., a ‘gentle’ bump on its head), many of us have had those intense feelings of anger that we know are illogical, but nevertheless very real.
These angry feelings stem from our expectations of social norms. Similarly to how we have norms in our interactions with people, we have deeply ingrained social norms in our interactions with technology. We expect our computer to boot up, our internet to work, and our software to run smoothly. When they don’t – just like when a co-worker lets us down – it’s easy to become irritated.
Add these feelings to the stress involved with an important deadline or a critical task, and irritation can quickly morph into frustration or all-out rage. While we may hold back our anger towards a colleague who has let us down, social norms often go out the window when dealing with our computer!
While technology will always have its moments, there are a number of things you can do to keep your blood pressure down when technology lets you down:
- Be prepared
This point is two-fold. First, you can save yourself stress down the road by learning the nuts and bolts of how your systems work. If you feel there are any gaps in your knowledge, reach out to one of your colleagues or IT for help. Second, try to prepare your mind mentally for technology to fail. If you accept that there’s a lot of potential for error when working with computers, and expect a few bumps in the road, then you’ll be in a better place mentally when something goes wrong.
When you’re able to choose your equipment (i.e., it’s not software that your company chooses for you), it’s a good idea to invest in the best software and hardware. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean always buying the most expensive piece of equipment out there, but the money you save by buying the cheapest isn’t worth it in the long run. Ultimately, you’ll create a more frustrating daily situation for yourself with a slower and less reliable computer!
- Back up
Have you saved your work? If you don’t already have this worked into your routine, it’s vital that you start backing up your files regularly, so that if you run into major difficulties, you don’t lose much of your precious work. Or better yet, set your computer up to back-up automatically! Programs like Google Docs automatically save your work as you go, so you don’t even need to think about it.
- Get help
Much of your computer stress can stem from not understanding how to fix problems. When these times happen, it is sometimes best to search for your issue on Google and see if you can fix it yourself. Doing your own problem-solving can often help your technology skills when another similar problem arises. If this doesn’t work, then find someone you trust in your organisation to help you.
- Stay comfortable
We often forget that being physically uncomfortable can add quite a bit to our stress levels. That’s why it’s important to keep ergonomics in mind when setting up your workstation.
- Manage your stress
Part of the intensity of tech stress can stem from the built-up strain of a tense body and stressed mind. If you can take a few minutes for some deep breathing or a short walk to get some fresh air, you will find yourself more relaxed and able to handle the frustration of the occasional computer mishap. When things inevitably go wrong, go back to these practical exercises to help you remain calm.
While many will naturally experience anger towards our technology, some may feel embarrassed that they can’t get something to work. Ultimately, technology is changing all the time. There is always a new platform to learn, a new update to install and passwords to remember — so many passwords!! Ultimately, it can be hard to keep up.
When we can’t achieve a task involving our tech, we usually ask our colleague or IT department for help. However, if this keeps happening, it’s easy to become embarrassed and, eventually, the easiest option becomes to suffer in silence. It can be confidence-sapping to know that you can do your job, but your ability to understand your workplace’s systems is letting you down.
If your technology issues keep occurring, it’s important to talk to your manager about it. Lots of people have problems understanding the ever-changing computer systems of the workplace, and your company has a duty to help you get up to speed and provide you with the equipment and tools you need. Your manager can organise extra sessions with your IT department to help boost your tech confidence, request better equipment, or implement processes that are less tech-reliant.
Converge International – FREE – Confidential Counselling – 1300 687 327