23 May 2024

"I hear Teams in my nightmares," Dutch report reveals groups with technostress

Mental Health

Digitalisation of workspaces increases pressure to work more, faster, and constantly, worsening mental health issues among employees. A new ADVANCE report highlights factors that make Dutch employees vulnerable to mental health problems in increasingly digitised work environments.

A man working on his laptop and a woman working while holding her baby.

Maartje, a 32-year-old project manager in a mid-sized Dutch tech firm, starts her day early, logging in from her home office. As her computer springs to life, her calendar pops up with back-to-back meetings, her email inbox is overflowing, and instant messages from her colleagues start pinging one after the other. While technology allows her a work-from-home setup, the constant influx of digital communications could be overwhelming. “I used to like the flexibility that remote working brings, but it has become extremely hard to draw the lines between work and life. Now, I hear Teams ringtone in my nightmare”, says Maartje, who, like many others, is navigating the increasingly digitised work environment that is both a blessing and a curse.

In the Netherlands, the move towards digitalisation in the workplace isn't new, having started last century. However, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this transition, pushing many employees like Maartje to work from home, reliant on digital tools for almost every aspect of their work. According to the European Commission 2023 report, 80% of Dutch small-to-medium enterprises have adopted digital technologies, a figure projected to rise to 95% by 2030.

While digitalisation brings increased connectivity and supposed efficiency, it has also ushered in significant challenges for employees' mental health. Recently, the term “technostress” has become more and more popular, following many reports on work-related psychological distresses.

A new ADVANCE report from its team at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) indicates the groups of Dutch workers who could be more vulnerable to technostress or mental health problems in general. It sheds light on how digital work environments affect workers in different ways and indicates groups with higher instances of burnout and stress.

"In 2022, around 1 on 5 of Dutch employees reported symptoms of stress, burnout and exhaustion related to their job. This not only has a negative impact on the employee involved but may also lead to higher absenteeism rates and reduced productivity in the workplace”

Marit Sijbrandij, Full Professor, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Burnout among younger and older employees

“In general, younger employees, between the ages of 18 and 35 years old, tend to strive for unattainable standards and feel pressure to excel immediately, which is simply not realistic. Digitalisation also doesn’t help, as they experience pressure to respond to work-related messages quickly and be constantly available, blurring the lines between personal and professional life, says Amber Brizar, PhD candidate, VU.

This effect of digitalisation can be identified as techno-invasion, which refers to digital technologies invading personal spaces and time, leading to a blurring of the boundaries between professional and personal life. These contribute to elevated stress levels and decreased work-life balance, exacerbated by the remote work model that lacks physical co-worker support and networking opportunities.

On the other end of the spectrum, employees older than 50 face what is known as "techno-complexity" and "techno-overload."

“On the one hand, workplace digitalisation can make older employees feel less capable, as they can have a hard time keeping up with the technology, which might eventually affect their productivity. This is exacerbated with the increased techno-overload they experience, making them feel like they have to work longer and harder because of this technology”, says Catalin Gherdan, also a PhD candidate at VU.

Additionally, the level of responsibility and experience was also found a factor of work-related psychological distresses. For instance, senior managers have been found to be more susceptible to burnout than other employees because of their increased responsibilities – breaking the misconception that executives have it all together. Managers deal with a variety of stressors at work that can often times pile up and lead to burnout if not managed properly. This goes the same for new employees who have less experience at a place of work and can tend to feel more isolated easily due to lack of social interactions with more experienced employees.


Gender disparities and work well-being

The report also highlighted how gender disparities and traditional views attached to it still impacts mental well-being to this very day. The VU team found out that psychological distress is more common among women, particularly those in younger demographics, in many Dutch workplaces.

“Multiple studies have found that women are at increased risk for burnout or work-related mental health problems. Factors that we have found to explain these findings are that female employees are more represented in industries with higher work pressure, like healthcare and education. It should, however, also be noted that we know that women tend to be more open about mental health issues, which could also influence these findings”, says Sanne Feenstra, Assistant Professor, VU.

Working from home could, however, increase the vulnerability of women to work-related mental health problems.

“I think many people find that digital or hybrid working can offer some welcome flexibility to combine certain household tasks and responsibilities with work. For example, doing some laundry while working from home, so you don’t have to do it outside of working hours. However, what we found in the literature is that this can blur the lines between your personal and professional life, and can specifically have a negative impact on the work-life balance of women, who traditionally take on more of these chores and caregiving responsibilities than men”, says Anke Witteveen, Assistant Professor, VU.

Paradoxically, masculine gender roles and stereotypes often contribute to greater stigmatisation of mental health issues among men, particularly those with a more practical educational background. This group tends to deal with issues independently and is less open about mental health at work due to the negative perceptions associated with disclosure, thereby perpetuating a cycle of stress and isolation. 

In our report, we note that male employees with a more practical educational background are less likely to discuss mental health problems at work or seek help. This reluctance may stem from a fear of negative consequences following such disclosures. For example, they assume that when they discuss mental health problems at work, they are less likely to get a promotion or somehow will be socially excluded from their co-workers. We suspect that these findings have to do with stigma surrounding the topic of mental health originating from traditional masculine gender roles”, adds Brizar.

A survey involving more than 1000 Dutch workers revealed that approximately 42% expressed reluctance to work closely with a colleague experiencing mental health issues. The common concerns were doubts about the reliability and competence of such colleagues, along with fears of a negative impact on the workplace environment.

The findings in the report call for mental health interventions addressing mental health stigma at work and improving the mental health of workers. But the stigma surrounding the topic could make companies reluctant to participate in such interventions.

“In terms of making companies enthusiastic about mental health interventions, it is important to explain explicitly what the benefit for them would be. This includes less absenteeism and higher productivity, but it is also helpful to emphasize that these interventions could help organisations meet their legal obligations to work on employee wellbeing”, says Gherdan.

Why is the Dutch study important for ADVANCE

The Dutch experience with workplace digitalisation serves as a microcosm of a global shift, reflecting broader trends and challenges faced by workers worldwide. It highlights the need for businesses to adopt not only digital tools but also robust support systems that prioritise mental health and well-being. 

As the boundaries between work and home continue to blur, companies must step up to ensure that their employees do not bear the brunt of progress but thrive in a digitized yet supportive work environment. For workers like Maartje, the future could hold a more balanced digital work life, where technology serves as a tool for productivity without compromising human well-being.

“In our study, we explore how digitalisation and technostress affect the mental well-being of Dutch employees in small-to-medium enterprises. Given that small-to-medium businesses often have limited resources to support their staff, we are also testing two targeted interventions designed by the World Health Organization to enhance employee mental health. First of all, a manager training is implemented to increase the knowledge and competencies of managers in regard to the mental health problems of their employees. Secondly, the effectiveness of a digital stress management program for employees is being investigated”, explains Mark van Vugt, Full Professor, VU.

Read this European-level policy guidance and priority actions to advocate for mental health with greater respect for human rights while tackling structural injustices.

Stay updated about this ADVANCE research on climate change and youth mental health:


Amber Brizar
PhD Candidate, Vrije Universitet Amsterdam

Joyce Anne Quinto
Project and Communications Manager

EU EmblemThe ADVANCE project has received funding from the EU Horizon Programme under Grant Agreement No. 101080323. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Health and Digital Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.