Mobile worker guilt hits most young workers

Smartphones and smartwatches make it easier to do work at home and vice versa, and that can lead to guilt

mobile workers in motion
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Most younger mobile workers feel guilty about using smartphones and smartwatches to do personal tasks while at work and for performing work at home when they should be taking care of their families or other duties.

A new survey of 3,500 professionals -- many under age 34 -- conducted in the U.S. and five other countries found at least 58% said they have feelings of guilt in this hyper-connected world.

The survey, conducted by the Harris Poll for MobileIron, also found that 60% said they would leave their job if their boss didn't allow any remote work or restricted their ability to do personal tasks at work. The survey involved workers in the U.S. as well as France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the UK between December 2014 and January 2015.

Feelings of guilt -- or even worker feelings of being exploited by an employer -- aren't normally associated with uses of new mobile technologies that can enhance productivity and improve communications. The survey indicates that workers' feelings shouldn't be taken for granted by bosses.

The findings suggest the problem isn't one that IT shops need to confront; instead, HR departments need to better define an employer's expectations for use of mobile devices during work and off-work hours.

"We don't talk about guilt much in IT," said Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy for MobileIron. The survey shows that young workers say they "have done a ton of work outside [normal work hours] and they don't feel great about it." Conversely, when workers conduct personal tasks using their mobile devices at work -- calling children, Web surfing or checking Facebook -- "they think that might be wrong and shouldn't do it."

Rege believes HR policies need to be more explicit about what uses of a mobile device are allowed at work or are expected when a worker is at home or away from the office.

"Companies need to set top-down boundaries, so if the CEO is sending emails at 2 a.m., that might not set the best example," he said in an interview. "If we do mobile connectedness well, we have productivity, but if we don't, we have guilt and exploitation. We have to empower the individual so the employee feels comfortable."

Companies need to "establish clear goals and agree on what needs to get done so that employees can hit their targets regardless of where the work happens," Rege said.

In the recent past, some companies banned the use of Facebook on desktop computers while in the office at work, but the mobile work environment makes it almost impossible to see what a person is doing on a small device anyway.

MobileIron CEO Bob Tinker said in a statement that "to recruit and retain the best the brightest employees, companies must establish policies that are aligned with the way employees want to work and live."

Wearable devices, which are expected to grow dramatically in coming years, will only increase connectedness and erode the distinction between work and personal time.

Feelings of guilt found among young mobile workers in the survey could have special implications in countries such as France and Germany, where work rules have been imposed by work councils to prevent worker exploitation. Such rules instruct employers when workers are expected to work and how.

"Work councils are quite powerful and their penalities are substantial," Ojas noted. What Ojas called "shadow tasking" (work done at home and vice versa) happens as often in France and Germany as the other countries in the survey.

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