Computers not key cause of work stress

Psychiatrists say they have not encountered Computer Stress Syndrome in their practice, noting that computers pay only a small part in stress-related cases.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Recent research by the Customer Experience Board noted that gadget-dependent users are plagued by Computer Stress Syndrome. However, psychiatrists contacted by ZDNet Asia said that computers play only a small part in the stress-related cases they have seen.

The study, titled "Combating Computer Stress Syndrome: Barriers and Best Practices in Tech Support" (PDF) and released by the Customer Experience Board, reported that 64 percent of its respondents said their computers have caused them "anguish or anxiety", despite 78 percent claiming to be savvy PC users.

The condition, called Computer Stress Syndrome (CSS), was coined by Dr Murray Feingold who was quoted in the report as saying that computers are "a double-edged sword" and users panic when their PCs go wrong.

However, two psychiatrists who ZDNet Asia spoke to said they had not encountered any patients with CSS, although there have been patients who have struggled with adapting to technology.

In an e-mail interview, Dr Chan Keen Loong, senior consultant at the Department of Psychological Wellness at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said that "occasionally" there are cases of older workers--in their 50s, [who are] less literate in English and have poor typing kills--having trouble coping with their jobs which now require them to have IT skills.

Meanwhile, Dr Nelson Lee, medical director and psychiatrist, at The Psychological Wellness Centre, noted in an e-mail, that while some patients reported depression and anxiety disorders because of job stress, computer-related issues are only one of the contributing factors and often not the main cause.

In fact, Dr Lee said he was not convinced of the legitimacy of the syndrome after consulting the original paper. He noted that deadlines at work have become tighter and workloads are substantially higher, which is why stress can feel "significantly higher" when an important tool, such as computers, does not function well.

Coupled with the fact that users are finding it hard to cope with delayed gratification, even slow boot times can be included as part of the "so-called" Computer Stress Syndrome, he said.

Dr Lee said he believes that stress related to computer systems will stop or drop when a system's hardware and software are working well and when users have crossed the learning curve to become familiar with the system.

Most of the stress-related problems that he has seen from office workers include inter-personal issues at work and job burnout.

He advised that it is good to have a few friends at work to safely share the stress with and ventilate in order to lessen the stress arising out of inter-personal issues.

Job burnout happens when people have little or no time for themselves, he said. "Hence, it is critical to craft in some 'me time' regardless of how tight your schedules are, to unwind, to prevent this from happening," he added.

Apart from stress, Dr Chan pointed out that computer users need to be alert of health problems such as Internet addiction, eye strain, neck problems, repetitive strain syndromes and sleep deprivation.

In other health issues, a Silicon.com report from 2006 cautioned desk-bound office workers to move around more to cut down on the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

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