BlackBerry is the Trojan Horse that brings work into personal life: study

Research examining the love/hate relationship Australian executives have developed with their BlackBerries describes ownership of the popular e-mail device as akin to signing a Faustian pact.The study’s findings, which were released Monday by the University of Sydney, found that while the device improves efficiency it also leads to very little corporate downtime.

Time spent commuting or any other spare time executives once had is now replaced responding to e-mails.

Lead researcher, Dr Kristine Dery, said unlike a laptop, a BlackBerry is seen as more accessible and mobile.

Therefore, it is more prone to blur the lines between work and personal lives.

Dery, a lecturer at the university’s department of work and organizational studies, conducted 30 in-depth interviews with two major banks based in Australia and Paris.

She was assisted by Dr Judith MacCormick of the University of NSW and Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts from HEC in Paris.

While the ability to clear e-mails in a taxi or in a lift helped some executives “hit the ground running” when they arrived at work, others expressed resentment at losing valuable reading and thinking space.

“Interviewees typically commented that they felt switched on to work from the moment they left home in the mornings,” Dery said.

“One senior employee of a financial services firm said he no longer read on his two hour commute each day but used the time to clear e-mails.”

When describing how they felt about their BlackBerry, Dery said executives used terms like ‘Trojan Horse’ or Faustian pact.”BlackBerry use has grown rapidly in the last six years, from being a senior management status symbol to a basic tool of trade,” she said.

“Some companies felt they needed to be seen by competitors and customers as using the latest technology. But we found most organizations treated BlackBerries as an extension of the mobile phone, thus assigning the management of this technology to purchasing departments.

“The BlackBerry is changing the way we work significantly, and offers organizations many more opportunities for future changes.”

With the exception of time management training and e-mail policies, Dery said companies have given very little thought to the impact of the BlackBerry in the workforce.

She believes it is a very real problem for organizations leading to executive stress and burn-out.

“This is particularly true when it comes to talent retention and organizational effectiveness,” Dery added.

“Management needs to think about how to harness the benefits of BlackBerries, increasing productivity and efficiency, while minimizing the downside.”

Blackberries were introduced to Australia in 2002, and current estimates claim there are about 14 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide.

Last year a federal government department actually stalled the distribution of a new fleet of BlackBerries fearing the devices would have a negative impact on the work/life balance of staff.

The Blackberries were purchased for the Minister for Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Peter Garrett, as well as 40 other executives including senior departmental staff.However, access to the new devices was delayed after concerns were expressed about the BlackBerries infringing on the work/life balance of staff.

Staff expressed fears about BlackBerries contributing to a longer working day and felt it was going a step too far because mobile phones are adequate for out-of-office contact.

Not everyone agreed, however, with some senior executives claiming a BlackBerry can contribute to work/life balance by facilitating telecommuting and more flexible schedules.

A survey undertaken by the Solutions Research Group found that one-third of respondents believe a mobile device can increase workloads.

The survey was undertaken by users of BlackBerries, Palm Treos and other PDAs and smart phones.

The findings support research from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) which shows that since 1980 working hours in Australia have continued to increase. Currently, Australia has the second longest working hours in the OECD.

As part of its work/life balance policy, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) wants the federal government to push teleworking and a more flexible working day built around the core hours of 10am to 3pm.

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