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Technology and Stress in the Workplace
By Michael C. Dennis, MBA, CBF

In the past fifteen years, technology has become increasingly prevalent in the credit function. Most of us not only use a computer at work, but many of us own a personal computer at home. Some of us even carry computers with us in the form of PDAs, palm pilots and other devices. Even our television sets, cars and cameras have gone high tech. Because technology in the workplace allows us to be more efficient, we often take on more duties and/or reduce headcount. Some of us end up feeling overwhelmed.

Our physical health is strongly influenced by our mental and emotional health. Stress has a profound affect on our physiology. Stress is becoming a significant problem. For many of us, a typical workday involves arriving at before 8:00 a.m., sitting at our desk, gulping down a cup of coffee, checking our e-mail messages and trying to respond to both the e-mail and the voice mail messages pending. At the same time that we are "killing" voice mail messages, we are scanning the e-mail messages trying to decide which ones can be deleted and which are important. My the time we clear both voice mail and e-mail, it is 8:15 or 8:30 and we realize that the day has just begun. Ten or twelve hours later, we head home.

Most of us would agree that the computer has made the credit department vastly more efficient. For example, it permits companies to centralize the credit function if the company chooses to do so. Using the computer, we can type a message and send it to everyone in sales and credit instantly. We can complete an expense report and forward it to accounts payable without getting out of our chair. Many companies have complicated the process of assimilating new technology by constantly updated the software in use. In fact, one of the fastest growing segments of software change involves ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning systems [including Oracle®, SAP® and JD Edwards®]. ERP systems are complex, and often they complicate rather than simplify the day-to-day tasks performed by many employees. This represents added stress to workers. Employees often need intensive training to prepare for the transition from old legacy system to the new ERP software. Employees often feel frustrated by the pace at which we are expected to adapt to these changes.

Over the last fifteen years, there has been an increase in workplace related stress. This stress is a major cause of workplace violence. In America, the average office worker must shift assignments seven to eight times per hour in a typical workday. Workplace stress accumulates with each shift in job duties. In the credit department, examples of these shifts would include:

  • Responding to voicemail messages
  • Reading e-mail;
  • Using the Internet for research;
  • Faxing documents,
  • Calling customers
  • Responding to incoming calls from customers
  • Typing credit notes into the system
  • Sending memos
  • Sending written confirmation to customers
  • Discussing problems with co-workers
  • Discussing problems with salespeople
  • Discussing problems with senior management

Technological advancements allow us to perform multiple functions, help us to communicate more quickly and more efficiently, keep us better informed, allow managers to monitor the performance of their subordinates and offer subordinates almost immediate feedback. We are clearly in the information age, but for many credit professionals there are still not enough hours in the day to handle all of the duties assigned to them. Because many of us are operating on overload, we can become overwhelmed. As a result, we sometimes respond to the most persistent requests, or we fall back on familiar process that does not take as much effort to perform. We cope with stress by performing tasks that are urgent instead of doing the ones that are important.

In some instances, employees shut down mentally. Many people are surprised to find that the antidepressant Prozac® is now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for office workers. The increase in stress has caused numerous health problems. Studies indicate that unmanaged stress is a greater risk factor for cancer and heart disease then either cigarette smoking or diet.

As the amount of information available continues to grow exponentially, and the use of technology increases, so will our stress from information overload. We need the ability to step back and assess our priorities in life. In short, we need to take time to relax, recharge our batteries, and smell the roses.

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