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Are you an addict? I think some of us are…
Just to clarify, I am talking email here! The phenomenon was initially known in the industry as “crackberry” but I think “icrack” is the better term now that Apple devices are more prevalent.
Problematic Internet use, or addiction, is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviours regarding Internet use that lead to impairment or distress (Weinstein et al., 2010). Email has been identified as one of three subtypes of Internet addiction which include excessive gaming and sexual preoccupations (cybersex).
While there has been some progress in terms of diagnosis using questionnaires such as the Young’s Internet Addiction Scale, the phenomenon remains clouded by shame, downplaying the issue or complete denial by those affected. In addition, unlike other addictive disorders such as substance and alcohol abuse, Internet addiction is relatively new so research remains in its infancy including clinical trials. Nevertheless a number of academic surveys took place over the last few years and the prevalence rate of Internet addiction varies widely depending on survey methods used and the demographics of surveyed population. In summary, 1.5% to 8.2% of Internet users are considered addicts (Petersen et al., 2009) and these figures can reach 20% in the Far East amongst the younger generation.
Similarly in the workplace, 60% of employees spend less than 2 waking hours a day completely disconnected from email according to a poll of 1200 employees carried out by the energy project.
Observing a number of people (including myself) over the last 2 weeks has led to the following simple questions that may help us reconsider our interaction with mobile devices, particularly corporate push email systems:
- Have you ever sat in a meeting where you or others were continuously responding to email only to be embarrassed later on when asked to contribute?
- Have you ever been on holidays where you ignored your kids to respond to emails?
- Have you ever tried to read your email in the car (illegal) or even in the bathroom (not illegal but it should be!)?
- Have you ever tried to turn your phone on before reaching the airport terminal?
- How long does it take you before you reach out to your mobile device when you hear the sound of new incoming emails?
- Which comes first breakfast or email?
Finally, I realised that push email is a bigger problem than I initially thought when I accused a colleague of mine of being an addict which he vehemently denied while pressing the send button on his iphone for the fifth time during the first hour of our evening meal. So we may all deny it, but the truth is that some of us are email addicts albeit with varying degrees.
From a CIO perspective, there is a need to understand whether organisations have a duty to protect their employees from Email addition and whether they are liable when such addiction may be linked to work. While many would argue that access to email after hours for example is completely voluntary, there is no denying the fact that organisations encourage such addictive behaviour by providing push email services 24x7x365.
Arguably, educating the workforce and email activity monitoring will be key in the medium to long term to anticipate and prevent such behaviour. In the short term however, CIOs should consider taking more concrete actions.
To evaluate potential options, keep it simple meaning steps that do not impact “real” productivity while improving the wellbeing of the workforce should be given priority. So next time you are reviewing your email strategy/policy, please give some thought to the following:
- Limit push email to working hours and by working hours I mean “08:00-18:00”.
- Consider introducing email credits for internal emails so employees can start thinking carefully about their email habits.
- Consider turning off push email for individuals automatically when they configure their out of office vacation or when they book their holidays in internal systems.
Taking the above steps should contribute to the wellbeing of the workforce and force your employees to gradually change their email behaviour. In many instances, these small steps will hardly impact productivity because at the end of the day, if it is very urgent I can guarantee you that you will receive a phone call!