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Smartphones simply keep you at work 24/7 according to new research.

A 2012 study by California-based Good Technology (2012) found that more than 80% of working adults in America continue to work after leaving the office for an average of 7 hours a week–just answering their smartphones.

Nearly half of those surveyed believe they have no choice in this because of customer [one might also intuit collegial] expectations. They even take their smartphones to bed with them. Indeed, 40% of survey respondents continue to check messages after 10:00 p.m. and 68% do so before 8:00 a.m.

An indication of how common this has become is in the United States, several class action suits are now in the courts to force businesses that rely on workers to answer after hours communications to compensate them with overtime pay (cf. CBC 2012b).

Carleton University professor Linda Duxbury has found similar trends in a decade of annual surveys. She has found that work weeks are no longer clearly defined because IT extends working hours with expectations that smartphones are always on (CBC 2012a).

The ubiquitous trend of modern work in all sectors is toward expecting fewer workers do more by means of wiring employees to the office via information technology to enable carrying out what are actually ‘mind-boggling workloads’ around the clock (Laab 1999: 30-2; cf. Bunting 2004).

A sign of this new social norm comes indirectly, but tellingly, from a 2007-2008 radio commercial for the career search engine web site Workopolis. It jokingly promoted the company by claiming the service could help recruit “Mr. works all weekend” to meet the needs of employers. Indeed, Fry et al. (2006: 330, 338) report that workaholism is now a behaviour actually highly valued by society and twelve-step Workaholics Anonymous groups have arisen to meet the new need.

How can we manage such IT-tethered expectations?

One solution is corporate. For example, in 2011, German car maker Volkswagen blocked e-mails from company-issued smartphones 30 minutes after the end of each shift, to unblock them only when the next shift begins (CBC 2012b).

Another is government intervention. The government of Brazil recently enacted a law requiring companies that send work-related emails to employees on their phones after hours to pay overtime. This is justified under the assumption that an e-mail from a superior is equal to an order to work (CBC 2012b).

In the individual realm, Chicago police officer Jeffrey Allen filed a class action suit in 2010 on behalf of the city’s police force after members were issued smartphones (CBC 2012b).

Without going to court, however, workers can surely shut their smartphones off, resist the strong personal temptation and collegial expectations to continue checking for new messages when not at work, and go ‘cold turkey’ from their smartphone addiction if they are not compensated for their extra time.

To maintain some semblance of work/life balance, saying “No” in this fashion requires that workers read William Ury’s Power of a Positive No reviewed in a earlier post.

Quite apart from the ethical issue related to employer expectations that workers will perform duties without pay [an issue dealt with in a future post], workers surely have a right to a clearly defined work day, not to mention the ability to preserve their own physical, mental, spiritual, family, and social health from intrusion by employers during non-work hours.

In short, “always on” is not something employers reasonably can expect regarding your smartphone. Turn it off when not at work.

Given the growing court docket in the United Sates, corporate risk management departments should identify the potential for class action suits regarding upaid smartphone overtime from their employees (CBC 2012b).

References Cited:

Bunting, Madeline (2004) Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, London: HarperColins Publishers.

CBC (2012a) “Smartphone use can mean never-ending workday”, Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 30 July http://www.cbc.ca/m/rich/news/business/story/2012/07/30/email-survey-overtime.html (accessed 6 August 2012).

CBC (2012b) “Unpaid overtime a growing legal liability”, Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 31 July http://www.cbc.ca/m/rich/news/story/2012/07/30/business-unpaid-overtime.html (accessed 6 August 2012).

Fry, Louis W., Laura L. Matherly, and Steve Vitucci (2006) ‘Spiritual Leadership Theory as a Source for Future Theory, Research and Recovery from Workaholism’, in  Ronald J. Burke (ed.) Research Companion to Working Time and Work Addiction, Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Good Technology  (2012) “Good Technology Survey Reveals Americans are Working More, but on their Own Schedule”, Sunnydale, CA: Good Technology, Inc. http://www1.good.com/news/press-releases/current-press-releases/161009045.html (accessed 6 August 2012).

Laab, Jennifer (2012) “Overload” Workforce (January), pp. 30-2.