Employers need to manage Crackberry addiction

Is mobile technology freeing you from the office, or is it tethering you to it more tightly than ever before? While mobile devices have the potential to increase productivity, just the opposite will occur if employers don’t manage their use and define their expectations.

I’ve tested a number of mobile devices over the past year and while, by the nature of my job, I don’t receive any e-mails that can’t wait until I return to the office, I can see the undeniable benefits of the technology.

The sales person on the road can respond to a client between meetings, or request an updated file from their assistant before the next presentation. With remote management technology, an IT staffer can troubleshoot or reboot a server from their PDA without journeying to the office.

With every advance in communications technology, however, comes increased expectations.

With each advance, from letter mail to telephones to faxes to e-mails, people have come to expect faster and speedier replies to their messages. With mobile devices, expectations are kicked up yet another notch.

That’s particularly true in an increasingly competitive business world where people are striving to get ahead and impress the boss. A recent survey from London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group indicated that 81 per cent of employees felt obligated to some degree to be available to their employers 24/7. Just 19 per cent of those surveyed said they felt no pressure to always be checking their Blackberry or Treo.

No one wants to lose out on that big promotion, or worse, be included in the next round of downsizings because they didn’t take their Pocket PC to their cottage during a family weekend.

While employers might think the constant availability enabled by mobile devices is a boon for productivity and the corporate bottom line, that’s a very shortsighted view. In fact, the opposite is true. A healthy and happy employee is a productive employee, and downtime is crucial to that.

If an employee is responding to e-mail rather than watching the ball game with their son or a movie with their spouse, they’re not getting that needed battery recharge.

Quality if life suffers. Instead, the stress of constant availability will only lead to increased rates of burnout and absenteeism, which translates into lower productivity for the employer.

Mobile devices have great potential to improve the business world, but as with all things, the key is balance. And here the obligation is squarely on the employer to set clear guidelines and spell out their expectations around the use of mobile devices.

Managers should define blackout times where employees are not to use their devices or reply to e-mail. For evenings and weekends, set acceptable response times that allow people to enjoy their downtime while still responding to important requests.

And most importantly of all, don’t reward those who ignore the guidelines and succumb to the lure of their device. That sends a message to everyone else and forces others to follow suit. Instead, help them seek treatment for their Crackberry addictions. The first step is admitting we have a problem.

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