To be or not to be stressed: Designing autonomy to reduce stress at work.

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearch


  • Anna Zeuge
  • Kristina Lemmer
  • Michael Klesel
  • Bastian Kordyaka
  • Katharina Jahn
  • Bjoern Niehaves
BACKGROUND: Many organizations are undertaking efforts to reduce the stress of (oftentimes overworked) employees. Information Technology (IT) (e.g., smartphones) has the potential to be a key instrument for reducing stress. One design-relevant factor considered to reduce stress is the concept of autonomy. Unfortunately, little research exists using autonomy as a characteristic of technology design. OBJECTIVE: Against this background, this study aimed to investigate specific autonomy-related design options with the potential to prevent stress. METHODS: In a factorial survey, this experimental study tested three design options in an overwork scenario: 1) autonomy (no intervention by design), 2) nudge ("nudging" by design), and 3) enforcement (hard stop by design). 51 participants (mean age 38 years, 50% women, mean work experience 18 years) from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Germany participated in the experiment for 330 seconds on average. To test our hypothesis, we used a two-step approach. First, a multiple linear regression was applied. Second, we carried out a one-way ANCOVA comparing the effects of our design options. RESULTS: Our results indicate that autonomy can be manipulated through technology design and is negatively correlated with stress. Additionally, the design options autonomy and nudge were associated with lower levels of perceived stress than was enforcement. CONCLUSION: The study proposes a careful use of IT and policies that limit the perceived autonomy of employees. Overall, this study offers a set of design recommendations arguing that organizations should implement technology that helps employees prevent overwork and maintain their autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1199-1213
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 11.08.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This publication has been partially funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Project-ID 416228727 – SFB 1410, the German Ministry of Culture and Science of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia (reference number: 005–1706-0006), and the research initiative “Instant Teaming between Humans and Production Systems” co-financed by tax funds of the Saxony State Ministry of Science and Art (SMWK3-7304/35/3-2021/4819) on the basis of the budget passed by the deputies of the Saxony state parliament.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023-The authors Published by IOS Press.

    Research areas

  • Business informatics - Technology-induced stress, stress prevention, work autonomy, experimental study, design options, occupational stress, professional autonomy, employee workload, work-life balance, leadership