Cybersecurity is a prominent concern in workplaces across the world. As positive as the digital landscape can be for businesses, it certainly feels as though the threat of cyberattack is relentless.

This brings another problem to light. The psychological influence of cybercrime may also lead employees to exacerbate your company’s vulnerability to it. Security fatigue is increasingly recognized as having significant consequences for businesses where it has a foothold. As a business leader, it's an ethical duty to your workforce and a commercial imperative to take action to address this issue.

How Does Fatigue Affect Operations?

Let’s start by looking at what security fatigue is and how it can affect operations. In essence, security fatigue is a form of exhaustion caused by today’s naturally overwhelming number of security matters. Employees may be inundated by the need for multiple passwords, constant threat alerts, and complex cybersecurity instructions. This sense of overwhelm triggers behavioral symptoms, such as ignoring software updates, neglecting password protocols, and generally taking risky online actions, among others.

It’s not difficult to see that this can be disastrous for the integrity of business operations. Your staff’s complacency can make your company more vulnerable to viruses and data breaches. A rise in security issues can disrupt your company’s productivity. Your finances could take a hit when remedying breaches. It’s also worth considering that if you are in a regulated industry, breaches due to security fatigue can represent a serious compliance risk that may result in legal action.

This makes it imperative to understand the nuanced psychology underpinning security fatigue. Greater knowledge empowers everyone involved to better prevent, identify, and address its insidious presence.

What Are the Psychological Roots?

Psychology is a complex and nuanced matter. Therefore, there are many and varied elements that can contribute in some way to security fatigue. We’re going to look at some of the most common aspects that you can take decisive action against.

Cognitive overload

Many people are familiar with the idea of having so much information thrown at them that they have difficulty holding and processing it all. Being inundated with more data than one can reasonably manage has significant consequences. This is because the brain is exhausted trying to make too many decisions based on this information. As a result, cognitive fatigue arises, which in turn leads to bad decision-making. Cognitive overload is common in security fatigue as a result of relentless alerts and updates about security and related elements.

Emotional labor

Emotional labor is the work people do to manage feelings to achieve goals. There are various types of emotional labor in the workplace. Some people may present a surface front to meet the less pleasant requirements of their jobs. Others may regularly have to adjust their emotions to stressful situations. Over time, excessive emotional labor can lead to burnout. The psychological impact of this may affect performance, including that related to security measures. Indeed, this may be particularly relevant when the emotional labor is related to security issues the company faces.

Experience biases

Biases can arise unconsciously over time. This is often the result of long-term exposure to opinions or ideas, particularly when they’re deeply ingrained in the culture. From a cybersecurity perspective, security fatigue may be affected by the biases related to what employees directly experience at work.

For instance, a lack of prominent security incidents during their time in the workplace may influence their perception of how relevant security is to them. Indeed, many employees report not feeling important enough to be targeted by attacks. In turn, they may begin to place less importance on the security measures they are expected to apply throughout their duties.

Feelings of helplessness

It can certainly feel sometimes that we’re all being bombarded by security threats. There may be a constant need to upgrade security measures or learn new techniques. Not to mention that fresh threats are emerging all the time, particularly with so many news stories of hackers utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to adopt smarter and faster methods. This can leave employees feeling gradually more helpless to do anything to counter threats in their day-to-day activities. This may be particularly present when they have no tangible cybersecurity expertise. The result can be a drop-off in maintaining even the minimum security protocols.

What Are the Potential Solutions?

You can’t reasonably expect to control your employees’ psychology. However, knowing the psychological influences of security fatigue enables you to adopt measures that mitigate their presence in the workplace.

So, what can you do?

Identify where the gaps are

Conducting a gap analysis is a good way to determine how to most effectively solve security fatigue while also identifying potential risks. For instance, your company may be experiencing cultural gaps where employees have different attitudes about the importance of good cybersecurity when compared to management. There may also be knowledge gaps, in the sense that your employees may not understand why cybersecurity is important.

Once you have identified where the holes are in your cybersecurity policies and company knowledge, you can take steps to solve them without additional security fatigue.

Limit unnecessary information

The simplest response to cognitive overload is to reduce the amount of data being thrown at employees. This doesn’t mean keeping them ignorant of cybersecurity threats. That doesn’t help anyone. However, you can be more cognizant of the volume and types of information they receive. Incorporating this into working practices may involve:

  • Issuing threat alerts only to staff they’re likely to directly impact.
  • Fine-tuning what triggers security alerts to reduce false positives and unnecessary information.
  • Reducing the amount of jargon and text in security information. Provide only the most relevant data required for the staff member to take tangible action.

More than anything, check in with employees periodically to see if they need help breaking down information. With someone to help them walk through it, larger loads of information may be easier to digest and handle.

Simplify security processes

Perhaps the most common thread in the psychological roots of security fatigue is the burden on staff members. Cognitive overload, emotional labor, and other factors can arise because too much is expected of staff. Therefore, the simpler you can make your security processes, the less of a psychological load they experience from them. Some of the measures to take could include:

  • Passwordless protocols. This prevents the necessity to keep changing passwords or entering different ones for each platform used. Biometric authentication by fingerprints, retinal scans, or facial recognition is a popular approach to passwordless access.
  • Automate security actions. Rather than require staff to make multiple security decisions every day, automate as many of these as possible. This could include automating system updates, threat scanning, and connecting to virtual private networks (VPNs) when staff are out of the office.

Naturally, these aren’t the only solutions to counter the psychological impacts of security fatigue. It’s important to also discuss this issue with your staff members and empower them by providing tech education. This shows that you care about the psychological impact security is having on them. Keeping them in the loop on the dangers related to fatigue may also mitigate feelings of helplessness and experience bias. By collaborating on solutions, you’re likely to help your staff feel more empowered to make a difference.


Security fatigue is a prevalent issue in business today and it has deep psychological roots. Your business and your staff can benefit from understanding the impact of these a little better. Importantly, consider this a wake-up call to make security a more manageable and less psychologically taxing influence on your workforce. Take the time to closely examine how your processes and protocols negatively affect staff on mental, emotional, and practical levels. You’ll find you’re much better equipped to develop a safe and supportive workplace culture.

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