The curse of the BlackBerry

The curse of the BlackBerry

Summary: Creating an epidemic of BlackBerry dependency may serve short-term business interests. But the trouble is one day the addicts might just fight back.

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Although he's supposed to be on holiday, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown admits his BlackBerry will remain on as he wanders pensively along the North Sea shore at Southwold.

Perhaps it's forgivable for a prime minister to feel the need to remain in constant touch with the office. But how many people do you know who have they holidays spoiled by work emails and calls? Or more mundanely how many people do you know who check their BlackBerrys and email out of office hours?

That issue may not seem particularly problematic. But as the part of the organization that usually owns these tools we are potentially sitting on a huge area of risk.

Contracts of employment never seem to include provisions about BlackBerrys and when a worker should or should not respond. Increasingly workers are hooked and the CrackBerry habit is eating into personal time and creating an awkward imbalance in people's lives.

I'm no expert in contract or employment law but I am certain companies are implicitly encouraging if not requiring employees at all levels to work out of hours and to be responsible for responding to queries no matter where they are or what they are doing.

It takes only one disgruntled employee to find solid grounds to sue over this imposition for the whole fabric of our mobile working community to come tumbling down.

As CIOs, we must act to protect our organizations and our employees from what is becoming an epidemic.

Organizations must start to develop standards and guidelines for out-of-hours use of devices such as BlackBerrys and other remote working tools.

They must also explicitly state what is expected of employees who use these devices and whether their compensation includes out-of-hours access.

By ignoring the issue companies are increasing their liability to claims and sending mixed messages to employees who have a right to personal time outside work, free from interruption or distraction.

As a self-confessed BlackBerry obsessive, I cannot claim to have found the balance my friends and family deserve. But at least I find myself in this situation through personal choice. I'm not sure all staff would see it the same way.

Also, evaluating performance of staff is often partly based on attitude and commitment, which can be misinterpreted to mean accessibility. One employee might always be available while another chooses not to respond out of hours. Preferring one employee to the other on that basis is understandable but it is a dangerous precedent to set.

We must manage the convenience and mobility offered by modern tools responsibly, to make sure they are used appropriately. That responsibility includes establishing when not to use them. Ignorance has never been an excuse for anything and cannot be used as an excuse for exploiting workers and their personal lives.

I have attended many symposiums on mobility and even spoken at a couple on this very issue over the past few years. Yet no company I know has created a policy on out-of-hours use of BlackBerrys.

As mobility becomes more advanced and services such as unified messaging and other technologies keep evolving, this issue will only become more pronounced.

As responsible CIOs we should address this question now. As an industry we should set out to define acceptable standards of conduct and use for BlackBerrys and other mobile email devices.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Mobility, BlackBerry

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15 comments
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  • Labor law separates between hourly and professional workers

    Professionals have always been "allowed" to work more hours
    than they are paid. This is only an issue when the employee
    is in a wage-grade position (employer can not allow or
    ignore unpaid labor by someone in a wage-grade position)
    or actually required to work more hours than they are paid.
    palmwarrior
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    As a psychologist, I may add, increasing out of office imposition of work on already stressed people is leading to increase in personal anxiety.

    There is a place and time for work, and a place and time to relax.

    Let us have a strictly imposed policy that official work NOt be done on berrys & other RAD's.

    Re the business of money for out of office work, surely, if I ask a man to work, I must pay him, at double the normal rates!

    Makes sense - right?
    Philosopher2
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    The situation existed long before Blackberry or email. Techies have traditionally been on-call 24x7 (for me, since 1963).

    Isn't it odd that nobody paid much attention until now - when management is finally having the same issues.

    BTW: The psychologist might consider that different people react to stress in different ways - and some types of stress are actually beneficial. Read the literature.
    steeleweed
    • RE: RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

      We can easily understand he's talking about mobile in general, and he's emphasizing the Blackberry only because it is more sophisticated than pagers from years gone and thus takes connectivity and availability to a higher level.

      If some people like stress, it can't stay non-regulated because of that. Policies and standards should be improved for sake of health and work quality. Then those who like stress are free to offer their extra time for free for the company and not expect special evaluations because of it.
      wheres_my_stuff
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    The Blackberry uses very advanced technology sometimes called the OFF BUTTON. Unless you are "bound by contract" to be available to respond out of working hours then may I suggest that the OFF BUTTON is used at clocking off time!
    Parassassin
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    I am working in a project rolling out BlackBerry phones worldwide. The employees are almost kicking down the door vying for their latest "status symbol"
    SAPWanderer
  • After 6 months I tossed my Blackberry, you want it?

    My productivity has gone us since I ditched it. 90% of the off hours calls were not emergencies, just adminitrivia. I am not required to be 24/7 and am not paid to be available 24/7 -- so I'm not.

    I am sure in 6 months, the status symbol will be viewed by many of your end users as one big boat anchor that wastes time.

    Good luck and may your deployment go well.
    ThePrairiePrankster
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    I'll say what no one else will. People who keep there Blackberry on all the time are not only keeping up on Email and texts with work related items but also with NON-WORK friends. Those people don't want to turn off there 'status' symbol.
    sdbowen999
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    The point here is not whether the company expect out of hours work via the Blackberry or Remote Access, it is derivative of a working culture where people are judged not on their performance but by their availability.

    People rightly or wrongly believe that they need to be available to their management at all time to be seen as going the extra mile and to be recognised, and to their team mates or staff to be perceived as a good colleague or manager.

    It is true that a sad day has come when performance doesn't count towards your rewards but your ability to type (not even communicate effectively) has become a KPI.

    I have implemented blackberry's into a variety of industry types and have always (and will continue to) set the corporate policy to be that the device will solely function as a mobile/cell phone (no live e-mail or access to corporate network) outside of the core business working hours, any amendment to this on an individual basis must be authorised by department head and staff member.

    May not be much but hopefully will help in the struggle for all to have a reasonable work life balance...
    Dominick-Murphy
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    I think the bigger question here is not whether or not the PM checks his BlackBerry, but rather how a man entrusted with government at its highest level is not using a Nokia device--say, an E71?

    Drop the kiddie phone, Mr. Brown. When you're ready to grow up, graduate to a real man's device.
    CosmoAgain
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    Bigger the fool for purchasing one in the first place! If you don't own one, no one can expect to reach you.
    Unless your company provides you with one - and then stipulates in your contract that you are expected to be reachable out-of-hours and compensates you duely - then I say tough!
    Until people learn that being in constant contact, and therefore constantly contactable, is a side-effect NOT a benefit of these latest technologies, then I say suffer in silence.
    Techanarchy
    • Or...just tell your employer that you consider that overtime

      As an employer myself, I do not expect employees to work on their time or vacation.

      If an employer is doing this to you, you should mention it and put a stop to it. Mention requiring to pay overtime and watch how many employers will stop bothering you on YOUR TIME.

      More and more, I see many people wanting a better work/life balance. Perhaps it's time to adopt a new standard of full time work hours (like other countries).
      meechp123
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    I'm a salaried IT guy and the Blackberry saves me time by allowing me to stay on top of server events and user requests. ALL hours show up on my timesheet and time lost reading my work mail at home is offset by the time spent reading my personal mail at work.
    Reply_account
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    Granted, I use my blackberry to keep up with not only
    professional but also personal contacts as well. That's why
    I have separate email addresses, and turn off the work
    account when I'm *not working.*

    As far as text goes, does anyone really use it for
    professional purposes if the topic is NOT of absolute dire
    importance? The way I see it, text is half a step away from
    calling someone at home when you know they're hosting a
    BBQ. Or worse yet, actually on vacation.
    the enchanter
  • RE: The curse of the BlackBerry

    I am a COO and I am addicted to my blackberry. It has caused problems at home. As a small but international company, there is more work than can be accomplished in a 40 hour work week. It just hast to be done and as we are a service provider, we have to provide adequate coverage.

    I had my blackberry set so that emails would give a specific ring when they came in. This led me to have and average response time to new emails of less than 5 minutes (30-50 emails/phone calls a day on average on my blackberry alone). My contacts began to expect this level of responsiveness.

    This was definitely having an effect on the home front, vacations included. I was with my family but constantly on my blackberry (like a teenager texting) and not "home" in person or attention to my wife and kids. It was constantly pulling me back to my computer and into a desire to finish projects.

    I finally had to turn off the email notifier. If there is an emergency, I trust my contacts to call me (they usually don't but wait for the next day when I respond to the emails). I still sneak a peak every few hours at my new emails to see if there is an emergency, but I definitely agree that even this should be considered as being "on call" as far as compensation goes.

    I just have to remind myself what is most important and that I am working so I can be with my family...so I better "be" with my family.
    db4565