Does 24-Hour Connectedness Create Feelings of Guilt?

Employees feel conflict over where and how they work

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 23, 2015
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Relying heavily on mobile technology to stay connected to their work and personal lives is creating “mobile guilt” among professionals, who then resort to “shadow tasking,” according to a new global online survey of 3,521 professionals.

Shadow taskingallows this new hyper-connected workforce—typically men 18-34 and parents with children at home under the age of 18—to use their smartphones or tablets to meet the demands of both worlds. It’s happening extensively across six countries—the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Spain.

Workers who shadow task embrace technology and workplace flexibility. Spanish employees, for example, are more likely than those in France, Germany, Japan, the U.S. or the U.K. to perform mobile work while eating, watching TV or lying in bed. U.S. and Spanish workers also are more likely to use their mobile devices for work while in the bathroom.

Members of “Generation Mobile”—so dubbed by enterprise mobility management vendor MobileIron, which commissioned the survey—are highly dependent on mobile technology for work and personal tasks. At least once a day during work hours:

  • 60 percent check or send personal e-mail.

  • 57 percent send personal texts.

  • 53 percent make personal phone calls.

  • 50 percent check or use social media.

At least once a day during nonwork hours:

  • 51 percent check or send work e-mail.

  • 43 percent send work text messages.

  • 46 percent make work-related phone calls.

  • 34 percent look up work-related information.

That level of connectedness is expected to increase with the advent of wearable technology. Among 42 percent of members of Generation Mobile who own or plan to purchase a wearable device, nearly all plan to use it for work. That includes taking calls; reading and writing e-mails; receiving alerts, such as meeting reminders; accessing their calendar; reading documents; and surfing the organization’s intranet.

HR’s Role

“Mobile is fundamentally changing how we work and live,” said Bob Tinker, MobileIron CEO, in a news release. “Mobile is as much an HR program as a technology initiative, and companies must establish policies that are aligned with the way employees want to work and live.”

Woe to any employer that tries to ban remote work or restrict employees’ ability to handle personal tasks at work—60 percent of surveyed employees said they would quit if that happened.

However, even as they use their mobile devices for work, 58 percent feel guilty about it.

Driving that guilt is a perception that, by mixing work and their personal lives, they are going against the norms of their culture, noted Ojas Rege, vice president of product at MobileIron.

“They want to work this way; they want to live this way. But the guilt implies something’s a mismatch. Either the company policy doesn’t align with the way they want to work ... or the norms at home don’t align with work expectations,” Rege told SHRM Online.

This mismatch is happening even in France and Germany, where regulatory bodies impose strict work hours, he pointed out.

“People shadow task there as much as anywhere else,” he said. “Traditionally, the employer and regulating body [had been aligned].” But, while regulators and employers may be on the same page, “individual managers may or may not be,” he said, noting that the definition of acceptable work practice can become fuzzy for employees.

“This new work style is evolving. People are clearly caught in the middle of it. But companies also are worried about the quality of work ... and worried about [employee] burnout,” as evidenced by the outcry at organizations that have tried restricting after-hours workplace e-mail.

The main takeaway, Rege said, is the need for “a policy rethink” by organizations.

That includes:

  • Revisiting cultural norms and talking openly about shadow tasking. The organization should consider legitimate boundaries it wants to set. “Done poorly,” Rege said, “it results in exploitation and guilt” as the employee sacrifices time off to perform work or risks recrimination, for example, for not responding to an after-hours work communication.

  • Understanding the decisions employees are making to be productive. Agree on what goals need to be accomplished so that employees can hit their targets regardless of where work takes place.

  • Protecting business data without compromising the privacy of employees’ personal data, no matter who owns the smartphone or tablet.

“The notion of a business device is gone,” as more employees use their personal devices for work, Rege pointed out. However, employees value their privacy; 29 percent said they would quit if their employer could access their personal e-mails, texts, photos or videos on their smartphones or tablets.

As this connectedness blurs employees’ work and personal lives, establishing organizational norms and expectations will become as much—if not more—of an HR issue than an IT issue, according to Rege.

It will serve as the catalyst for HR professionals, he said, “to get out of the HR silo and look at the organization’s global strategy” while remaining mindful of restrictions that a country’s regulatory body sets.

Harris Poll conducted the survey between Dec. 17, 2014, and Jan. 22, 2015, with full- and part-time employees who use a mobile device for work purposes.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.​

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