Telepressure: The Dark Side of Convenience


We live in an Internet 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 our 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 employees’ mental and physical health. Telepressure (link is external) represents a fixation with checking and quickly responding to messages (Barber & Santuzzi, 2015).

This may lead employees to work during times when they should be recovering. Research suggests that telepressured employees are at risk for burnout, impaired performance due to ill health, and health-related work absences.

Worrying about responding to messages introduces a new demand into the work environment that employees 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.”

This means that employees might not be engaging in needed recovery time from work tasks, which can negatively affect health and subsequent work performance.

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 to do with work norms.

This means that employers may be part of the problem, but they’re also part of the solution. A quick fix would be to establish a work environment that supports employee recovery time when jobs require immediate response times (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 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 electronic use during late hours contributes to sleep problems (Cain & Gradisar, 2010).

Another important area of research involves driving. 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 makes the risk of crashing 23 times greater (Olson, Hanowski, Hickman, & Bocanegra, 2009).

As communication technologies are incorporated into hospitals, the dangers of telepressure may even be present in the operating room. Nearly 50 percent of doctors surveyed have admitted to texting during surgery (Smith, Darling, & Seerles, 2011).

Because this is an emerging field of study, further telepressure research may offer new solutions to many of the risks associated with texting.

Breaking the cycle

Responding quickly to messages can lead to escalating expectations from others that you will 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 mediums (i.e., emails and phone calls; Barley, Meyerson, & Grodal, 2011).

So to break the telepressure cycle, we must first carefully reflect on our own behaviors.

Alecia Santuzzi (link is external), Ph.D., is an associate professor in social-organizational psychology at Northern Illinois University (link is external). Her research examines interpersonal perceptions in social and work situations.

Larissa Barber (link is external), 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.

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