By guest contributors Joseph Ammar, Alecia Santuzzi, and Larissa Barber
We live in an age in which we spend much of our day glued to a screen. Technology has revolutionized the way we interact with each other, allowing us to stay connected to friends, families, coworkers, and supervisors. Smartphones and other devices make connecting to others more flexible and convenient. This is why organizations are increasingly replacing face-to-face communication with email and texting.
However, researchers warn that these benefits may come at the price of our mental and physical health. "Telepressure" is a fixation with checking and quickly responding to messages (Barber & Santuzzi, 2015). Worrying about responding to messages introduces a new demand into our environment that we must juggle with their other tasks. The ability to stay connected to the workplace 24/7 through email also makes it easy to blur the lines between “job hours” and “me hours.”
Telepressure leads employees to neglect needed recovering time. Research indicates they may work during times when they should be recovering—vacation or weekends, for example—which places them at risk for burnout, impaired performance due to ill health, and health-related work absences.
Who’s to blame?
So far, we know that the experience of telepressure has little to do with an individual’s personality, and a lot more to do with work norms. Employers may be part of the problem, but they can also contribute to the solution. A quick fix would be to establish a work environment that supports employee recovery time when jobs require immediate response (e.g., emergency services).
When jobs do not require immediate responding, employers can set clear norms for appropriate response times that do not interfere with employee recovery and nonwork hours.
Moving beyond the workplace
The experience of telepressure may not be limited to the workplace.
Telepressure stemming from our daily personal interactions may also present a hidden danger. Those itching to check their messages at night may pay the price the next day. Many studies have found that use of electronics at late hours contributes to sleep problems (Cain & Gradisar, 2010). Another important area of research involves driving, as safety concerns have led a majority of states to ban texting while driving. Fighting the urge to respond to a text behind the wheel is important, as texting increases by 23 times one's risk of crashing (Olson, Hanowski, Hickman, & Bocanegra, 2009).
As communication technologies are incorporated into hospitals, the dangers of telepressure may even be emerging in the operating room—nearly 50 percent of doctors surveyed have admitted to texting during surgery (Smith, Darling, & Seerles, 2011).
Breaking the cycle
Responding quickly to messages can lead to escalating expectations from others to always be available for requests. Thus, it may be important to adjust your own response patterns to avoid the vicious cycle of responsiveness expectations.
For example, batching your communications throughout the day (i.e., only responding at specific times) and setting up “no-interruption times” can help manage these expectations with others.
Additionally, research suggests that we all may be responsible for telepressuring others by enforcing a “norm of responsiveness” with friends, family, and coworkers.
This includes becoming upset when others do not respond quickly to our messages and shaming others into fast response times by using group communications (i.e., cc’ing others on emails) or sending multiple requests through different media (i.e., emails and phone calls) (Barley, Meyerson, & Grodal, 2011).
This is an emerging field, and further telepressure research may offer new solutions to the risks associated with texting. To break the cycle, we must first carefully reflect on our own behaviors.
Larissa Barber, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University. She teaches courses on industrial-organizational psychology, personnel psychology, and occupational health psychology. Her research is focused on occupational stress, the role of sleep in self-regulation and self-regulatory depletion, factors affecting counterproductive workplace behavior, and work-life balance.
Joseph Ammar is a graduate student who studies social/industrial-organizational psychology at Northern Illinois University. He currently collaborates with Dr. Santuzzi and Dr. Barber on ongoing research related to telepressure.
Barber, L. K., & Santuzzi, A. M. (2015). Please respond ASAP: Workplace telepressure and employee recovery. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(2), 172–189.
Barley, S. R., Meyerson, D. E., & Grodal, S. (2011). E-mail as a source and symbol of stress. Organization Science, 22(4), 887-906.
Cain, N., & Gradisar, M. (2010). Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: A review. Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 735–742.
Olson, R. L., Hanowski, R. J., Hickman, J. S., & Bocanegra, J. L. (2009). Driver distraction in commercial vehicle operations. Retrieved from http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=907078
Smith, T., Darling, E., & Searles, B. (2011). 2010 Survey on cell phone use while performing cardiopulmonary bypass. Perfusion, 26(5), 375-380.