Date of Award

8-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Management

Advisor

Grover, Varun

Committee Member

Pak , Richard

Committee Member

Moore , DeWayne

Abstract

Recent research shows that such Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as instant messengers can cause workplace interruptions, which lead to stress for employees and substantial productivity losses for U.S. organizations. Since the introduction of ICTs, workplace interruptions have evolved in both frequency and nature from irregular phone calls to a continuous stream of e-mail notifications and other electronic interruptions, mediated through a large number of technological devices that constantly beep and buzz. This trend of an increasing frequency of workplace interruptions closely relates to another workplace trend: the graying of the workforce, implying that the U.S. workforce is aging at an increased rate. Since older people are particularly vulnerable to interruptions, the interdependencies inherent in these two workplace trends need to be better understood. Accordingly, this dissertation aims to understand whether, how, and why technology-mediated (T-M) interruptions impact stress and task performance differently for older compared to younger adults.
To examine these questions, this research applies two complementary theoretical frames that explain interruptions' influence on older and younger adults' cognition. First, the Person-Environment Fit perspective suggests that T-M interruptions may lessen the fit between the mental resources available for performing a task and those required, thereby inducing workplace stress and, in turn, reducing individual task performance. Second, the Inhibitory Deficit Theory of Cognitive Aging holds that older peoples' ability to actively disregard distracting stimuli is impaired. Thus, more T-M interruptions may 'steal' resources from the processing of task-related content in older adults.
In combining these theories with user characteristics and technology features, this research develops an integrative model of ICTs, aging, stress, and task performance. We propose that older people are more distracted by T-M interruptions than younger, thereby experiencing greater mental workload and, in turn, more stress and lower performance. We test the model through a laboratory experiment that integrates the manipulation of ICT features with objective measures of stress and task performance, unlike the subjective measures commonly used. Experimental manipulations include the frequency with which interruptions appear as well as such interruption design characteristics as color codes. Outcome measures include actual performance in terms of the number of task elements solved, as well as the change in stress hormones found in saliva, a state-of-the art physiological measure of stress.
In developing and testing the model, we help to clarify the role of age in technostress. This research also sheds more light on the mental processes that connect ICTs to stress and performance, and it has begun to open the black box of the ICT features linked to these outcomes. For managers, we provide guidance on assisting older employees in realizing their full potential for contributing to firm success. This research further advises systems designers on such issues as user involvement.

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