Technology turning staff into work addicts

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Technology turning staff into work addicts

BlackBerry or CrackBerry?.

Firms that wire up their workers with BlackBerry devices and other equipment that provides always-on connectivity with the office may wind up with liability for encouraging addiction among staff, US researchers warned today.

Gayle Porter, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers-Camden School of Business, said that the "fast and relentless pace of technology-enhanced work environments creates a source of stimulation that may become addictive".

While addiction to work has been a widespread phenomenon for some time, the Rutgers-Camden research suggested that employers may be laying themselves open to legal liability for these addictions.

"There are costs attached to excessive work due to technology. ICT addiction has been treated by policy makers as a kind of elephant in the room: everyone sees it, but no-one wants to acknowledge it directly," said Porter.

"Owing to vested interests of the employers and the ICT industry, signs of possible addiction - excess use of ICT and related stress illnesses - are often ignored."

Porter added that the results can be "devastating" for the individual worker and the employing organisation.

"Employers rightfully provide programmes to help workers with chemical or substance addictions," she said. "Addiction to technology can be equally damaging to the mental health of the worker."

In a forthcoming study, co-authored by David Vance, an assistant professor of accounting at Rutgers-Camden, and Nada Kakabadse, a professor of management and business research at the University of Northampton in the UK, Porter offers advice for employers and workers.

"It may be unfeasible to regulate how much people use technology, but it is reasonable to imagine a time when policy makers recognise the powerful influence of employers that sometimes results in harmful excess among the workforce," she said.

"The pressure for using technology to stay connected 24/7 may carry employer responsibility for detrimental outcomes to the employees."

The element of employer manipulation is important to determining liability. "If people work longer hours for personal enrichment, they assume the risk," said Porter.

"But if an employer manipulates an individual's propensity toward 'workaholism' or technology addiction for the employer's benefit, the legal perspective shifts.

"When professional advancement, or even survival, seems to depend on 24/7 connectivity, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between choice and manipulation."
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