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People on the other side are waiting: work obligations and shame in ICT-related Technostress

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Abstract

With the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in organizations, employees continuously interact both online and offline. This continuous interaction leads to the construction of norms and obligations around the usage of technology, which can also result in negative impacts on the employees’ health, for example, technostress. Previous Information Systems research on technostress has focused on psychological or neurophysiological quantitative research on the use of ICTs and its effects. To our knowledge, there are no technostress studies that make use of the role of obligation, which in our view is a crucial lens, as it shifts the technostress debate to showing how the felt obligations constructed around the technology, can lead to technostress. To further explore how technostress arises, we use the analytical concept of obligation from the discipline Sociology of Emotions. Our data comes from an exploratory case study in a Danish fintech company. We find that employees take on themselves the ideals of ICTs being seamless, and when ICTs don’t live up to their expectations, they experience shame and guilt. To avoid such feelings, they construct obligations that lead to technostress. We contribute to technostress and IS literature by showing how obligation con- tributes to technostress.
Association for Information Systems Association for Information Systems
AIS Electronic Library (AISeL) AIS Electronic Library (AISeL)
Selected Papers of the IRIS, Issue Nr 11 (2020) Scandinavian (IRIS)
2020
People on The Other Side Are Waiting: Work Obligations and People on The Other Side Are Waiting: Work Obligations and
Shame in ICT-Related Technostress Shame in ICT-Related Technostress
Raluca Stana
IT University of Copenhagen
, rala@itu.dk
Hanne Westh Nicolajsen
IT University Copenhagen
, hwni@itu.dk
Follow this and additional works at: https://aisel.aisnet.org/iris2020
Recommended Citation Recommended Citation
Stana, Raluca and Nicolajsen, Hanne Westh, "People on The Other Side Are Waiting: Work Obligations and
Shame in ICT-Related Technostress" (2020).
Selected Papers of the IRIS, Issue Nr 11 (2020)
. 5.
https://aisel.aisnet.org/iris2020/5
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Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 1
PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE ARE WAITING: WORK OB-
LIGATIONS AND SHAME IN ICT-RELATED
TECHNOSTRESS
Research paper
Stana, Raluca, IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, rala@itu.dk
Nicolajsen, Hanne Westh, IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark,
hwni@itu.dk
Abstract
With the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in organisations, em-
ployees continuously interact both online and offline. This continuous interaction leads to the con-
struction of norms and obligations around the usage of technology, which can also result in negative
impacts on employees’ health, for example, technostress. Previous Information Systems (IS) research
on technostress has focused on psychological or neurophysiological quantitative research on the use
of ICT and its effects. To our knowledge, there are no technostress studies that make use of the role of
obligation, which in our view is a crucial lens, as it shifts the technostress debate to showing how the
felt obligations constructed around the use of ICTs can lead to technostress. To further explore how
technostress arises, we use the analytical concept of obligation from the discipline Sociology of Emo-
tions. Our data comes from an exploratory case study in a Danish private company. We find that em-
ployees take on themselves the ideals of ICTs being seamless, and when ICTs do not live up to their
expectations, they experience shame and guilt. To avoid such feelings, they construct obligations that
lead to technostress. We contribute to IS research on technostress by showing how obligation contrib-
utes to technostress.
Keywords: obligation, technostress, ICTs, information systems, qualitative research
1 Introduction
Technostress defined as any negative impact on attitudes, affects, thoughts, behaviours, or body
physiology caused directly or indirectly by technology (Weil & Rosen, 1997)represents an increas-
ingly important area of research within IS (e.g. Tams, Ahuja, Thatcher & Grover, 2020; Tarafdar,
Cooper & Stich, 2019; Tarafdar, Maier, Laumer, & Weitzel, 2020). Research shows that ICTs (infor-
mation and communication technologies) in organisations create technostress (Ayyagari, Grover, &
Purvis, 2011; Tams et al., 2020; Tarafdar, Tu, Ragu-Nathan, & Ragu-Nathan, 2007). A study follow-
ing knowledge workers found that they spend an average of 5.5h daily on communication-related
work instances (Wajcman & Rose, 2011). The amount of time employees spend using their ICTs
makes the issue of looking closer at ICT-related technostress even more pressing. Taking email as an
example of ICT, too little or too much email usage compared to what the employee desires increases
technostress amongst employees (Stich, Tarafdar, Stacey, & Cooper, 2019).
However, intriguing research on email claims that it has become a symbol of stress that distracts us
from what creates stress, which research shows is the norm of responsiveness around email use, and
not the medium itself (Barley, Meyerson, & Grodal, 2011). On the same line of thought, Mazmanian,
Orlikowski, and Yates (2013) argue that email use leads to the creation of obligations around using
Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 2
email, as the knowledge workers experience a continuous tension between their autonomy and work
obligations in the working all the time, everywhereparadigm.
Past research on technostress assumes that technostress arises in the individual as a response to an in-
teraction with technology (e.g. Riedl, Kindermann, Auinger, & Javor, 2012); or that we need to focus
on the ICTs in order to identify the technostress stimuli (e.g. Ayyagari et al., 2011; Tarafdar, Tu,
Ragu-Nathan, & Ragu-Nathan, 2011); or that technostress arises in the static or dynamic interaction
between the individual and the ICT (e.g. Sellberg & Susi, 2014).
These assumptions leave out the social arena, where work obligations (covert or overt) are negotiated
(Clark, 1990; Ross, 1970); and norms around the use of ICTs are co-created (Mazmanian et al., 2013).
We are opening up these past assumptions in technostress research and attempting to contribute to ex-
isting technostress research by looking closer at how obligations, duties, and responsibilities are shap-
ing employees’ habits that lead to technostress. Furthermore, in this paper, we look at technology as an
indirect cause of technostress, as we see ICTs as a means of bringing up other issues in the organisa-
tion that can lead to technostress.
We take the stance that employees construct some of the ICT habits that lead to technostress as a result
of their felt obligations, and that the ICTs amplify social aspects. For example, enabled by ICTs, em-
ployees might apply the norm of responsiveness they act on during working hours to their free time as
well, if they feel a covert or overt obligation to do so (Mazmanian et al., 2013). We argue that it is es-
sential to make covert obligations overt in organisations to avoid negative consequences, such as tech-
no-invasion, -complexity, -uncertainty, -overload, and -insecurity, which are all examples of tech-
nostress creators (Tarafdar et al., 2011).
We emphasise technology as an indirect cause of technostress. Much of the past technostress research
argued technology as being the source of technostress (e.g., Riedl et al., 2012; Sellberg & Susi, 2014;
Tarafdar et al., 2019). On the contrary, we argue that it is also the employeesfelt obligations that can
lead to technostress, and thus technology plays a role in the background in our paper, while we bring
the social environment in which obligations are co-constructed to the forefront.
This paper seeks to accentuate and contribute to the debate concerning technostress in Information
Systems (IS) by using the sociological lens of obligation. We are seeking to answer the research ques-
tion: How do obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress in organisations?’ To conceptualise
and analyse these issues, we look into how obligation (Clark, 1990), an emotional blend borrowed
from the discipline Sociology of Emotions (Turner & Stets, 2006), plays a significant role in how we
shape ICTs usage habits and perceptions contribute to technostress.
The empirical context of this paper is an exploratory single case study based on an international pri-
vate company. We analyse verbatim transcriptions of our interviewees to find technostress perceptions
and tease out the felt obligations that led to these perceptions.
We contribute to IS technostress literature by using the sociological theory of obligation on research-
ing technostress. One of our findings suggests that employees take on themselves the ideals and norms
of ICTs being functional and seamless, and they feel it is in their obligation that ICTs should perform.
When ICTs do not live up to the ideal, employees experience feelings of shame, which leads to the
construction of duty (a form of obligation). To avoid shame, one must have ICTs that are functioning.
When they do not, this leads to technostress.
2 Technostress
Being alive implies a constant response to stress, and stress reactions are not necessarily wrong. A cer-
tain level of stress is needed for motivation, growth, or development, also known as eustress (Selye,
1976), or as techno eustress (Tarafdar et al., 2019). However, unmanageable (techno)stress is damag-
ing to both our mental and physical health (Cooper, Dewe, & O'Driscoll, 2001). Below, we present
Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 3
four approaches to investigating technostress, inherited from organisational stress response, stimu-
lus, interaction, and transactional:
The response approach views technostress as a dependent variable, for example, a response to
a threatening stimulus, such as a computer breakdown or an IT error. This approach is based
on neurophysiological measurements (Riedl, 2012; Tams, Hill, Guinea, Thatcher, & Grover,
2014), for example by measuring cortisol, also known as the stress hormone (Riedl et al.,
2012), or heart rate variability (Schellhammer, Haines, & Klein, 2013).
The stimulus approach focuses on identifying the potential sources of technostress, such as in-
formation overload, or blurred work-life boundaries (Ayyagari et al., 2011; Galluch, Grover,
& Thatcher, 2015; Sarabadani, Carter, & Compeau, 2018; Tarafdar et al., 2011). For example,
Ayyagari et al. (2011) found that some technostressors are work overload, role ambiguity, in-
vasion of privacy, job insecurity, and work-life conflict.
The interaction approach focuses on the technostress arising in the interaction between the in-
dividual and technology. Some studies find that for some people, technostress can add to their
existing psychological stress (Hudiburg, 1989). One example is the interplay between em-
ployees and the different types of technologies that they need to relate to within a day (Sell-
berg & Susi, 2014).
The transactional approach looks at stress not as a factor that resides in the individual or the
environment, but one that is instead embedded in the ongoing process that individuals engage
in, to continuously appraise stressful situations, make sense of them, and find the necessary
coping resources. In technostress research, we see an example in Ragu-Nathan, Tarafdar,
Ragu-Nathan, and Tu (2008).
In our paper, we take our departure from the transactional approach to define and explore technostress.
At the same time, we expand this approach by arguing that stressful incidents arise not only in the dy-
namic interaction between humans and technology, but also as a result of employees’ felt obligations.
Furthermore, researchers point out two ways of measuring and exploring technostresspsychological
and neurophysiological:
Neurophysiological stress is a direct response to environmental stimuli that can be measured,
i.e., an increase in cortisol as a result of an IT system error (Riedl et al., 2012).
Psychological technostress is the result of an interaction between environmental demands and
an employees conscious assessment of those demands, i.e., conscious self-assessment of
whether the IT system error has caused felt stress (Ayyagari et al., 2011).
Research classifies technostress creators in five creating dimensions (or technostress creators), which
we present in Table 1.
Form of technostress
Definition
Techno-overload
Employees face information overload and ICT-enabled multitasking.
Techno-uncertainty
Employees feel unsettled by the continual upgrades and ICT changes.
Techno-insecurity
Employees feel insecure about their jobs in the face of new ICT and
others who might know more about these technologies.
Techno-complexity
Employees feel intimidated by using ICTs.
Techno-invasion
Employees never feel free of ICTs.
Table 1. Technostress Creators Based on Tarafdar et al. (2011)
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Furthermore, there are also studies discussing technostrain. Salanova, Llorens, and Cifre (2013) define
technostrain as a combination of high levels of anxiety, fatigue, skepticism, and inefficacy related to
the use of ICTs(Salanova et al., 2013, p. 2).
As we have seen in this chapter, there are two ways of measuring technostress: neurophysiological and
psychological. In our research, we propose a third approach to exploring technostress: a sociological
approach. We expand on this in the chapter related to our analytical lens, and we argue that it is not
only the interactions between humans and technology that can cause technostress, but also the direct or
indirect interactions around technology.
Although the concept of obligation in Sociology of Emotions is designed for face-to-face interactions
(Clark, 1990), we are using it in a highly digitised context. We allow space for our interviewees to
wander from the online to the offline and back again, to account for their realities of hybrid interac-
tions, in semi-structured interviews. We have no particular questions in mind, as the intention is to
work closely with them, the employees of the digital age, in a grounded attempt to find the answer to
our research question: How do felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress in organisa-
tions?’ We argue that Sociology of Emotions, and particularly the lens of obligation, can contribute to
technostress research by showing how what we believe is our duty, responsibility, or what we owe to
others, is what leads to situations of technostress.
3 Obligation as an analytical lens
In our paper, we are utilising the concept of obligation as defined in the field of Sociology of Emo-
tions. This discipline arose from the need to integrate emotions into the field of sociology (Kemper,
1990). In 1990, Candance Clark wrote a chapter in Kemper’s book (1990), where she proposes a novel
way of looking at obligation.
Clark (1990) proposes that emotions can be used to negotiate a social place. A social place is a micro-
level position, where those occupying higher places have more prestige, power, and interactional
rights. Those in a higher position have the right to evaluate others, to be late, to have something more
important to do, to ignore others, and so on. For example, monopolising others’ time by making them
wait reflects and reinforces power differences. Micropolitics involves lines of actions to gain or main-
tain a social place. Clark defines several strategies through which people can negotiate social place.
One of them is through eliciting obligation.
Obligation is defined by Clark as an emotional blend, meaning that one cannot pinpoint only one af-
fect associated with obligation, but multiple. She argues that obligation is what makes people want to
behave in a certain way towards others or society as a whole, emphasising that obligation is the feeling
that we owe something to others (e.g., time, services), or that we ought to do something. At the same
time, obligation can be imposed from the outside or the inside. We can feel inner obligations due to
our desire to do things because it is moral to act that way or because we would feel better about our-
selves.
From a micropolitics perspective, invoking a feeling of obligation in others is a way to inform and ne-
gotiate our social place with others. For example, duty is a form of obligation that makes people want
to behave in a certain way towards others. If we do not carry out our duties, we might experience feel-
ings of dishonour, guilt, or shame, or feelings of pride, satisfaction, or relief when we complete our
duty. Responsibility, which Clark describes as an account to self that includes affect surrounding the
cognition(Clark, 1990: 324), is also a form of obligation where we feel we have to perform specific
actions for others.
Shame can be a strong driver for constructing one’s duty. Shame is defined by Ahmed (2004) as being
witnessed in one’s failure (Ahmed, 2004: 103), and she further explains that shame can be intensi-
fied if the individual is looked at while experiencing shame. At the same time, when experiencing
shame, the feeling is taken upon the self, rather than having it attributed to an object. Furthermore, the
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Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 5
fear of shame can prevent employees from betraying norms, while the lived experience of shame can
remind the employee of the reason for those norms.
Another form of invoking feelings of obligations in others is alter-casting. An example is referring to
the status of the other to make a role expectation more salient, e.g., Graduate employees are so moti-
vated that they work even at the weekends’. If a new employee accepts the status of being a motivated
employee, they might also have to accept the obligation the role entails.
In our analysis, we are focused on finding tensions in data of where obligations lead to technostress
perceptions, by zooming in on duties and responsibilities that are taken for granted. We look at the
technostress perceptions that our interviewees discuss when asked about technostress, and we tease out
the obligations that led to that incident.
4 Methodology
We are conducting qualitative research in the form of an exploratory single case study. Case study re-
search provides an opportunity to investigate a phenomenon in a given context, which is useful in situ-
ations where the phenomenon is deeply entangled in the context (Yin, 2009). In our case, we are con-
ducting an exploratory and interpretive case study looking into elements of technostress by exploring
how obligations are constructed and experienced in the real-life setting of a company. In this explora-
tory case study, we conducted four semi-structured interviews, with each interview lasting 30 to 60
minutes.
We interviewed the director, a middle manager, and two employees from a company, as it was im-
portant to us to see how organisational members at different levels engaged in the construction and
experience of obligations around the use of ICTs. As there is not much qualitative research on tech-
nostress to be inspired by, our approach was exploratory with an emphasis on how the interviewees
frame and understand technostress, while allowing them to discuss what they found important (Bry-
man & Bell, 2011, p. 468).
We point out that perhaps a perceived limitation of single case study research is inherent in its singular
nature. As Eisenhardt and Graebner (2007, p. 27) point out, a pivotal response to this perceived chal-
lenge is to clarify up front that we are interested in developing a new sociological approach in explor-
ing technostress, and not to test it. They further argue that in a single case study, as opposed to multi-
ple case research, the advantage is that rich data can be presented at length (Eisenhardt & Graebner,
2007, p. 29).
We perform text analysis on the verbatim transcriptions of the interview data. Although this could be
perceived as a limitation for our case study, as we do not use more data sources than the interviews,
we argue that on the one hand researching technostress from a qualitative perspective in IS is relative-
ly new, and our focus is to look at how different concepts are made sense of by our interviewees. On
the other hand, our focus is on the inter-relations; hence, we found the interview data to be most inter-
esting. One way to strengthen this in the future is by coupling it with observations.
We conduct our analysis on verbatim transcriptions of the interviews by interpreting what the inter-
viewees themselves describe as technostress. In that sense, we can claim that we are conducting con-
tent analysis (e.g., evoked emotions) (Wetherell, 2012). As Thoits (1989) describes, it would be diffi-
cult to conduct a thorough analysis of the intervieweesemotions, as even just five minutes of record-
ed footage would require a serious amount of coding of emotions, micro-emotions, tonality, facial ex-
pressions and other cues (Thoits, 1989). Wetherell (2012) believes that it is less interesting to define
the relationship between affect and discourse, and more interesting to look into the affective assem-
blages and their social consequences, as affect and discourse are intertwined (Wetherell, 2012, p. 52).
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5 Analysis
In this chapter, we give space to the employees’ stories of technostress. We selected the most repre-
sentative quotes related to repeated technostress perceptions and interpreted them by using the concept
of obligation inspired by Clarks definition (Clark, 1990). These perceptions are what the interviewees
understand as technostress. We started from technostress perceptions, from which we deductively de-
rived obligations as opposed to inductively looking at obligations, as we wanted to focus on the rela-
tion between technostress and obligation.
In the following, we look into three themes that we interpreted as emerging from our data: multiple
running communication channels, unlimited work, and resilience to technology, to investigate how felt
obligations about technology create stress in the workplace.
5.1 Multiple running communication channels
While analysing our data, we noticed a recurrence in employees discussing the impact of multiple
communication channels on their technostress; therefore, our first theme is multiple running commu-
nication channels’. In this chapter, we explore how the employees experience the existence of com-
munication channels with respect to technostress. We look into how that constructs what they believe
are their obligations.
Formulating a given strategy
Below, the director discusses why he is using many different communication channels and how that
affects him. The quote also refers to a company communication strategy, created to ease the problem,
but which is not adhered to:
[
]
during your daily work, you need to relate to a lot of input
[
]
So we have
different kinds of communication channels. So even though that...that we have
tried to formulate a given strategy, then so...not all adhere to it, for
the...basically for the reasons that...that someone has decided that one-size-fits-
all, but it does not. So we still have the openness of several possibilities, and
that is definitely a stress factor.(Director)
The director describes the many communication channels he needs to use to do his work. He thus feels
obliged to use the different communication channels, either due to each communication channel hav-
ing a different purpose or due to his followers having different preferences.
Even though the company has a communication strategy, it does not appear to have been successfully
implemented. A strategy to include norms can be seen as an obligation work on an organisational level
by setting expectations of when to use which communication channels. However, this attempt is with-
out success as not all adhere to it’, and it seems like the leader does not want to enforce it either, as
the premise of one size fits all is not accepted.
At the same time, he indicates his understanding of the employees not feeling obligated to follow the
company’s communication strategy, arguing that the reason someone has decided that one size fits
allis not strong enough for the employees to comply with the strategy. Concurrently, this lack of ob-
ligation in employees, as well their leaders, leads to the openness of several possibilities’, which the
director classifies as definitely a stress factor’.
Knowing where to address a given concern or question
Further, the director talks about the consequences of having several communication channels open:
That is definitely a stress factorboth keeping pace with it, but also um, you can
say follow up or (how can I put it?) knowing where to...to...to address a given
concern or question or whatever, which channel or which system that you
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should be using. That...that gives some kind of, I would call it, anger, actually.’
(Director)
The director seems to feel that it is his duty towards his followers to know where to address a given
concern, or question, or whatever’, which leads to anger, actually’. In this example, it is becoming
evident that while the director gives a strong indication of the technostress generated by multiple
communication channel options (‘that is definitely a stress factor), his perceived duty of knowing
where to address a concernleads to anger, thus contributing to why it is stressful for him to have
multiple communication channel options. At the same time, we could say that the reason for why the
director feels angered when he does not know where to address a given concern, or question, or
whateveris that he internalises it as his duty to know this.
The nature of my role
A middle manager presents another perspective of having multiple communication channel options,
arguing that relating to all these communication channels as a manager is part of the nature of his
work’:
I asked my people what their favourite communication ways are. And I talk to
them, I want to help them in any sense, so I don’t have an operational role. I want
to minimise the friction for them, so I don’t force them to contact me on a
specific channel. Instead, I adapt myself to whatever they prefer.
[
]
On my
computer, I am running every possible communication tool, but yeah, it’s fine. I
don’t have any issues with it
[
]
having Slack, Teams, Skype, Cisco, Viber,
emails, open
[
]
that’s the nature of my role... But it’s better they are not
distracted.
[
]
when I go home, actually, it’s very sad to say, but I don’t have the
same energy.’ (Middle manager)
The above quote is a representation of obligation in the form of duty. He explains his duty rhetorically,
contrasting I/them, illustrating his duty as a leader towards his followers, whom he calls my people:
I asked my people; I talk to them; I want to help them; I want to minimise the friction for them;
I don’t force them; I adapt myself to them.’
His perceived duty towards his people drives this middle manager to run (…) every possible commu-
nication tool, due to his interpretation of his duty: I need to talk to people’, thushaving Slack,
Teams, Skype, Cisco, Viber, emails, open’. This is coupled with a sense of sacrifice: it’s better they
are not distracted’, where the middle manager is using a comparative better’, without emphasising
both comparison terms, and this time focusing ontheybut forgetting the I’.
However, when later asked about any changes in his perceived well-being, his answer is: It’s very sad
to say, but I don’t have the same energy.
Moving reminders forward
An employee presents his experience about having to relate to so much input in the form of incoming
emails and his solution for dealing with what he perceives as new tasks:
(the) most stressful thing is some things that you have to take some actions, but
maybe not even now, you have to remember that next week you have to do so and
so, and then you really have to be creative: okay, would I like to put something in
my calendar? No, maybe not, because I still dont know which days it will be?
Should I then open my outlook and make some reminder? And then it ends up in
having every day, many times during the day, just a list of reminders. And then you
have to consciously go one by one, and I delay this by one, this one by one week,
this one by one hour. And then the next day again, you have to take those
decisions, and then you realise you continuously spend time on moving those
reminders forward.
[
]
And then, of course, it pops up in some unexpected
Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 8
moments when youre really in the middle of something creative.’ (Employee
1)
In this quote, the employee feels a responsibility to act on specific requests and uses the technology to
keep postponing the obligation of doing something. The way the employee explains what is going on
and that it is (the) most stressful thingindicates that this way of dealing with demands is problematic.
One of the reasons is that much time is spent leading to nothing: you constantly spend time on moving
those reminders forward’, and that it prevents creative work as it pops up in unexpected moments
when you are in the middle of something creative’. Disturbances are known to slow down productivity
as it gives a cognitive setback. At the same time, whenever a reminder pops up, the employee engages
in extra cognitive processes of questioning what to do and planning tasks, which likewise takes up en-
ergy.
Feeling expected to follow all of it.
Further, Employee 1 describes how he feels expected to follow through with the requests, or at least
decide whether the information received is something vital to him or not:
.. using these technology channels its so easy, that maybe some people
overuse it, maybe they dont think twice before actually collecting some bigger
chunks of information as one item of information,
[
]
and it just creates more
traffic, and then you feel expected to follow all of it. Or if even if you don’t,
youre curious - okay, maybe something is important for me, I better read this
and check, and do something about it.’ (Employee 1)
This employee refers to the overload of information that happens as a consequence of the ease of
communicating too much and instantly: maybe some people overuse it’. The employee describes feel-
ing like he would be missing out, due both to being curious and fearing that he might miss something
important. We only see the latter one as an instance of obligation related to the duty of staying updated
(what is important to me). However, both create different kinds of insecurity. As a consequence, this
employee reads all to avoid the feeling of insecurity, thereby constructing his duty around continually
staying up to date with what others are sending, even though he is conscious that maybe some people
overuse it’.
5.2 Unlimited work
Unlimited work is a theme that has been debated for many years. In the following quotes, we see an
example of alter-casting that leads to firm work-life boundaries, as well as an example of obligation to
be continuously available.
Not feeling obliged to contribute more
The employee describes a manager that in the past has helped him relate to working in his free time in
a way that he perceives as positive, and what that subsequently meant for him:
I had some specific manager,
[
]
the manager used to say: okay, the day has
only 8 hours, and the working week has only five days, you should not really feel
obliged to contribute more, you still have family, private lives” –
[
]
this is not the
way to really keep you as a valuable resource, that needs some rest and peace
and quiet.”
[
]
And that was good, I had the feeling that I am being taken care of,
that I am not being vacuumed into something that will swallow me at some point,
and is escalating more and more, nothing like that so that I think that it was quite a
luxurious situation. I hope for it to continue
[
]
, so I think I’m stronger in the sense
that when, just in case, when it comes to this situation that some new manager
expects more,
[
]
I would use it as a negotiation point.(Employee 1).
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Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 9
The employee describes how he feels taken care ofwhen his superiors do not impose any obligation
to work beyond working hours and how, on the other hand, if he has a manager who expects more and
thereby imposes obligations in terms of expectations and duty, he could quickly feel vacuumed or
swallowed’. The employee refers back to a manager who explicitly stated that working within hours
was the expectation, and thus placed obligations through alter-casting that employees are valuable
resources that need some rest and peace and quiet’. The employee keeps this argumentation as a rea-
son for how he should behave, what is expected, what his obligation is, and argues that if he ever ex-
periences another manager who expects more’, then he will refer to this earlier manager. This manag-
er thus becomes a role model, and the managers speaking of employees as valuable resources be-
comes a mantra story.
Feeling free to call
The director discusses work-life balance, his availability outside working hours and on holiday, as
well as what he communicated to his employees about it:
I have made it very explicit, telling people that I do not expect them to check mail
when they are off, either on holiday or in the evenings or in...in the weekends. I
try to refrain myself also sending out emails outside office hours. I would not
say that I succeed every time, but I am trying to...to...I’m super much aware, so
I’ll not do something like that. So to me, its about being available, basically. So
though when I go on holiday, I have this out of office reply that I do not check
my mail. I actually turn the notifications off on my phone, so I don’t get new mail
notifications when I’m on holiday. But I have an option that they’re always free
to call me. And, I may have experienced that once or twice, but people, in general,
don’t. So they respect. But I think that its okay for them to know that its the
position that I have, that it’s okay that they can reach out.(Director)
The director describes that he has made it explicit that he does not expect people to check mail when
they are off’. Whether this is a common approach in the company, it is unclear. According to the em-
ployee’s quote above, it depends on the individual manager. The director’s statements show that he
knows he is a role model, and he has to show what is wanted through his behaviour. In this way, he
shows his understanding of his perceived duties, placing certain obligations onto himself. As a role
model, he tries to refrain myself also sending out emails outside office hours’, but the use of tryand
the fact that he does not succeed every timeindicates that the obligation to set expectations is known
but challenged by other needs.
Furthermore, the director is not saying anything about checking emails at night. Still, he says he uses
out of office reply when on holiday, so that he doesn’t get new mail notifications, which indicates
that he feels an obligation to check his mail. Making himself available (‘they are free to call’) indi-
cates he feels the need to be available if his employees need it. Checking emails and being available is
possibly a feeling of duty due to his position as director.
5.3 Technology resilience
When operating online meeting technologies, an employee raises the issue of additional work in set-
ting up, running, and not least troubleshooting when the online meeting technologies do not work as
expected. These might be minor issues, however, and as the employee expresses below, they add up.
People on the other side waiting
The employee provides an account of a stressful situation, that of having to prepare for an online meet-
ing when the equipment does not perform as expected:
You can classify it as technostress
[
]
It’s not only that youre getting angry and
might act irrationally because of it, but well, if youre in time pressure, say youre
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Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 10
preparing for some meeting, its in ten minutes, and you wanted to open some
presentation and also some application, and also connect to some server, prepare
everything on your screen to be ready, and something doesnt work, then, of
course, its irritating, and then youre really stressed, and pressed on time, and of
course the source its the technology that doesnt work as it is expected,
[
]
people on the other side are waiting, and they are writing on some other
channels, “Are you there? We are waiting for you.”’ (Employee 1)
The employee describes a generally stressful situation for him, which he would classify as tech-
nostress. It is a situation in which he has to prepare for a meeting. Even though he arrives ten minutes
in advance to ensure that the equipment is ready for the meeting, if something suddenly does not work,
he feels stressed, and he is confident that of course the source is the technology that doesn’t work as it
is expected’. Later, he describes how other people are waiting on the other side.
From the others’ questions, it seems like they do not mention anything about the possibility of tech-
nology not functioning. On the contrary, they ask, Are you there?By posing these questions, the col-
leagues are alter-casting the expectations of their colleagues to be on time and prepared. In situations
where the technology is not working, this interaction is the source of technostress, as the employee
feels it is his duty to have everything prepared. He incorporates the performance of technology as part
of his performance, and when technology does not work, he gets stressed. Not living up to expecta-
tions is shameful, and the feelings of shame might be intensified under the perceived gaze of the others
(the colleagues waiting on the other side).
It really takes much capacity
The employee further explains how the accumulation of minor technical issues can lead to employees
having to use a lot of their capacity on troubleshooting them:
Even if it’s a minor issue because we know by experience that even the minor
issue, multiplied by the number of meetings during the day, multiplied by the
number of days in a period, it really takes a lot of capacity, people spend their
time on this kind of things instead of coming to the meeting and starting discussing
productively... then of course if you dont do anything it might only get worse.’
(Employee 1)
As can be seen from the quote, technology handling takes up time, delays meetings and reduces what
employees perceive as productivity. The way the employee talks about these issues reveals that it
takes up a lot of capacity’. The employee feels an obligation to take on this additional work and sees it
as his and his colleagues’ duties, which is a duty to make meetings work because if they do not, then
it might only get worse’.
Individuals need to have more resilient behaviour
The middle manager talks about how technology is not perfect and how employees need to be more
resilient:
.. the video conferencing technology, even state-of-the-art, is not perfect. This
happens, so it’s good to have some resilience to any failures. I don’t think you can
find anybody who says, like, “It never had a problem, it worked like a charm!
[
]
So now it will be a kind of management talk, but as management, we try to solve
these problems. So we invest in technology, better technology, to make it
seamless. Of course, that’s our duty. But still, also the people, the individuals,
need to have a more resilient behaviour
[
]
to change and to be able to
embrace change just as a fact of life, you can say.(Middle Manager)
The manager acknowledges that technology is not perfectand argues that it is a condition that the
technology does not always work like a charm’. He argues that people his employees need to be
Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 11
more resilient’, meaning he is alter-casting the responsibility of his employees to stay open and han-
dle the troubleshooting related to working with, e.g., conferencing technologies. The manager argues
that resilience to deal with changes is part of life, thus alter-casting that changes and challenges are to
be expected. Therefore, there is an expectation for the employees to deal with change, whatever it is.
However, he also addresses the managerial responsibility (our duty) to invest in technology to make
it seamless’. The obligation seen about conferencing technologies is thus balanced between manage-
ment providing the best in the market and employees being resilient.
Is it now that you need to address this, or should you wait?
The director talks about technological glitches and whether or not employees can be vocal about it:
I know myself, can also be super, super frustrated if...if it’s something, Okay,
we have tried to change that, it’s not possible to change that. Let’s try to get the
best possible out of this situation.” Even so, people are continually complaining
about.
[
]
I also can be a little bit frustrated and stressed.
[
]
I do understand
that, but we also need to move on, right and get it. So you get some slack, get on
board, or I don’t know maybe you need to find another job if you continue
complaining about it.(Director)
In the quotes above, the director talks in general terms about changes and agile transformation as a
current challenge. He argues as earlier that this is part of the current situation (it’s not possible to
change that’). He argues that he, at times, feels stressed and frustrated and that he expects people to
take responsibility for coping with change as part of the job. He puts it bluntly that people get some
slackin the beginning; however, if they keep complaining then maybe you need to find another
job’. He communicates substantial obligations for his employees and himself (alter-casting) that, as an
organisational member, you need to cope with change and the stress and frustration that follow.
6 Discussion
In the following chapter, we couple some insights we found in the analysis chapter with theory. We
preserve the same subchapters as under the analysis chapter.
6.1 Multiple running communication channels
In our analysis chapter, we discussed how having multiple communication channels options creates
technostress among employees. Although the source is shared, the director, the middle manager, and
the employee have different experiences of how these multiple channels are causing technostress.
The director reports feeling angry about not knowing where to address a given concern. In tech-
nostress literature, feeling unable to keep up with changes in how to use ICTs is known as techno-
uncertainty, and feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of ICT is known as techno-complexity
(Tarafdar et al., 2011), both of which are technostress-creating dimensions. The director was not asked
if he experienced these forms of technostress, nor did he hear about them before the interview. Still, he
is reporting that having multiple communication channels options as a stress factor while reporting
that not knowing where to address a given concern can even cause anger. One might take it further and
ask why the director feels that he needs to know where to address a given concern. It seems like he is
constructing a sense of duty of having to know, and it is the unfulfillment of this duty that is causing
him to feel angry and to perceive multiple communication channels options as a stress factor. The di-
rector tries to avoid being seen as having what he perceives as his shortcoming of not knowing where
to address a specific concern, and is not able to attribute the badnessto the technology, but taking the
shame of failing onto himself (Ahmed, 2004).
The middle manager discusses his need to be flexible and use multiple communication channels simul-
taneously to minimise friction for his employees. He discusses techno-overload and ICT-enabled mul-
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Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 12
titasking (Tarafdar et al., 2011). At the same time, he discloses that he feels fatigued after working
hours, which is a common symptom of technostress (Salanova et al., 2013). In his case, we can also
see that his perceived duty of operating multiple communication channels at the same time is what
drives his behaviour.
Employee 1 reports techno-overload (Tarafdar et al., 2011) in the form of reminders that keep popping
up, and techno addiction (Salanova et al., 2013), in which he is constantly checking emails out of curi-
osity or of fear of missing out. Employee 1 also reports feeling like he is expected to both read and act
upon all of them, which shows what he perceives as his obligation.
It can be said that obligation in the digital age is constructed in a way that puts great pressure on em-
ployees: if technology can keep up with everything, then so should the employees. If technology can
be accessible everywhere, then so should the employees in a way that transcends the human body’s
capacity. However, neurophysiology reminds our organisational members that they are not cyborgs,
by triggering forms of technostress, stress, anger, fatigue, and confusion.
6.2 Unlimited work
Previous literature has reported blurred work-life boundaries as an increasing problem (e.g., Ayyagari
et al., 2011); however, in our analysis, we see that the employee reports that he does not feel obligated
to work during his free time. This is because a previous manager, who currently serves as a role model
for him in this area, has inspired a change by letting him know he is a valuable resource and needs to
rest when he is not at work. His current director is also very adamant about not being available on
email during his free time.
However, we see a contrast in how obligation is constructed around the concept of availability outside
working hours, where the employee only checks emails out of curiosity. At the same time, the director
resorts to tricks to make space for himself. We call it a trick because he requires those who need him
to call him, instead of being available on email. Calling requires more effort on the part of the caller
and perhaps makes the caller feel hesitant to interrupt the director’s holiday.
6.3 Technology resilience
Regarding technology resilience, the employee, the middle manager, and the director discuss the issue
of technology not working as expected. We see in the chapter on technostress that even one IT error
can create a spike in cortisol level (stress hormone) to such a degree that researchers can classify that
as acute stress (Riedl et al., 2012).
The employee describes a typical situation of encountering ICT errors while preparing for an online
meeting, despite his efforts. It seems like the employee is attributing the technology failure to himself,
while the people waiting for him on the other side seem to also ask him about whether he is there or
not, and not mentioning the possibility of technology malfunctioning. We could say here that the em-
ployee turns towards himself and is not able to attribute the badnessto the technology, and takes the
shame onto himself (Ahmed, 2004). Shame might be the driving force for him in constructing his duty
to perform in front of others and to live up to the norm of having functional technology. He does not
seem to be able to shift the shame on to the other’, in this case, the technology.
At the same time, from what the middle manager and the director have to say, it seems like the ideal is
to be resilient’, but one could ask how resilient can we be in the face of technology? As Sellberg
and Susi (2014) discuss, we are flexible, creative beings that have built rigid technological structures
and of course, the interaction between us and technology can lead to technostress (Sellberg & Susi,
2014). The middle manager and the director, at the same time, seem to be repeating the discourse that
stress is the responsibility of the individual, which is also one of the earliest approaches to tech-
nostress: the individual is at fault for not being able to cope with technology (Brod, 1984).
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Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 13
One can also note that the type of technology malfunction reported by the employee is not the same
type that the middle manager and the director seem to discuss. The underlying message from the mid-
dle manager is that one needs to be resilient, whereas the director takes it even further and mentions
that one should move on and find another job. These subliminal messages can add to the construction
of the ideals and norms in a company (Orlikowski, 1994). It can add to the shame experienced by
those around whom technology cannot live up to the ideal, by taking upon themselves this lack’. This
shame can heighten the sense of obligation, to avoid shame, that one constructs as ones duty to have
the technology function, and when it doesnt, this creates shame, which is described by the employee
as a perception of technostress.
We can see that the director is not spared this. It seems like his status does not affect his feeling frus-
trated and stressed. It can also be a matter of who is allowed to feel and who is not. It seems like the
director creates the very same feeling rules that impact him, with the difference being that the others
would need to find another job if they cannot live up to the ideals, which is a sign of a heightened so-
cial place (Clark, 1990).
7 Conclusion
In our paper, we investigated the research question How do felt obligations contribute to ICT-related
technostress in organisations?’ through an exploratory single case study. We have employed the lenses
of obligation, as understood by Clark (1990), thus emphasising that technology is an indirect cause of
technostress while bringing the social environment to the forefront of our study. Technostress has so
far been researched quantitatively, from either a psychological or a neurophysiological perspective.
We thus expand technostress literature by proposing a sociological perspective: obligation is at the
core of what leads to technostress. We intend to shift the debate on technostress to showing how the
felt obligations constructed around the technology can lead to technostress.
Among our findings, we note that employees take on themselves the ideals and norms of technology
being functional and seamless. When technology does not live up to the ideal, they experience feelings
of shame, which leads to the construction of duty (obligation)to avoid shame; employees feel they
have a duty to ensure the technology is performing. When it does not, this leads to technostress.
The use of obligation as a lens shows us that the feelings of obligation may lead to stress, but may also
prevent stress. There is thus a need to be more aware of the obligations experienced and how these are
often constructed unconsciously. Obligations are co-constructed between individuals, providing ex-
pectations and norms about how to behave. This understanding points to the handling of technostress
as an organisational, managerial, and individual effort, rather than solely individual. Implementing
technologies may change what is possible, meaning it potentially blurs our current practices and the
limitations given by less flexible technologies. It also means expectations and norms need to be re-
negotiated to create obligations that are sustainable from a technostress perspective.
We contribute to IS technostress literature by using the sociological theory of obligation in researching
technostress. One of our findings suggests that employees take on themselves the ideals and norms of
ICTs being functional and seamless, and they feel it is their obligation that ICTs should perform.
When ICTs do not live up to the ideal, employees experience feelings of shame, which leads to the
construction of duty (a form of obligation). To avoid shame, one must have functioning ICTs. When it
does not, this leads to technostress. Furthermore, we find that the feelings of obligation may lead to, as
well as prevent, technostress. We further expand on our findings in the discussion and conclusion
chapters.
8 Limitations and further work
Our current study can be seen as a pilot and has the limitation of having a small sample when explor-
ing ways of discussing and investigating felt obligations in the workplace. Its purpose is to test obliga-
Stana & Nicolajsen / How felt obligations contribute to ICT-related technostress
Selected papers of the Information systems research seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS), Issue Nr 11 (2020) 14
tion as a lens to unfold and better understand technostress in the workplace. We would like to follow
up by talking to more organisational members, coupled with observations, and returning to our in-
formants and asking them more questions. This work may help us understand technostress from a so-
ciological perspective, as well as ways in which organisations can avoid or handle technostress.
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In recent years there has been a surge of interest in affect and emotion. Scholars want to discover how people are moved, and understand embodied social action, feelings and passions. How do social formations ‘grab’ people? How do roller coasters of contempt, patriotism, hate and euphoria power public life? This book systematically reviews research on affect and emotion in neuroscience, social psychology, sociology, and political science. It develops a critique of the ‘turn to affect’ and argues for an approach based on affective practice. It provides new analyses to explain how affect travels, settles, circulates and coalesces.