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How to lead the charge against mobile guilt and mobile burnout

April 21, 2015

The MobileIron Gen M Survey identified the demographics of highly mobile professionals across six countries, how mobile has become a key criteria in their home and work lives, and how those lives are increasingly blending. We also asked how people feel about this blending or the activity of shadow tasking – doing work tasks during personal or family time and personal tasks during the workday.

The two primary demographics that define Gen M include professionals who use a mobile device for work: young men (18-34) and parents with children under 18 living at home. Mobile has empowered these folks to switch between work and non-work contexts in ways that would’ve been impossible just a few years ago. Gen M workers do 26% of their work on a mobile device and 64% acknowledge doing work tasks outside the workplace and office hours via mobile on a daily basis. 82% acknowledge doing personal or family tasks during the workday on these same devices.

Those stats show that there is a blending of work and life tasks and that mobile is empowering Gen M by allowing more flexibility of work as well as the ability to check-in and manage life and family. They show mobile is transforming how people work and that this shift is a global trend.

Perhaps the more interesting piece of data for CIOs and other executives is that 58% of Gen M workers said they experienced guilt as a result of this shadow tasking at work. At the same time, roughly the same number of Gen M employees (60%) acknowledged that they’d leave their job if their employer didn’t allow them to work remotely or restricted their ability to perform personal or family tasks during the official workday.

As mobile continues to become a deeper and more intrinsic part of our personal and work lives, these boundaries will continue to blur. Wearables, such as the Apple Watch, will only accelerate this shift and 42% of Gen M individuals either own or are planning to buy a wearable. Of those, 95% plan to use it for work tasks. This means that mobile guilt, mobile burnout, and general dissatisfaction will become more pervasive unless employers are proactive in stemming the underlying causes.

What’s behind mobile guilt?

Among the Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions for the word guilt is “the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously.” If employees are feeling guilty about using mobile devices to shadow task, then they perceive themselves as having committed an offense – to their employer, coworkers, or family members – by doing so, whether or not that is actually the case.

At the same time, these people also acknowledge that this is something that they feel is critical to managing their work and family lives.

Accepting the reality of mobile guilt

The first step in addressing mobile guilt is to accept that almost all mobile devices used by professionals today are mixed-use devices. Whether they are company-owned or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), they serve double duty and will have a mix of business and personal content and apps on them.

These devices will be used for shadow tasking by a growing number of employees, meaning they will enable anywhere and anytime work which empowers both the employee and employer. They will also be used for personal tasks during official work hours because they empower individuals to manage their lives and families in much better ways.

This is a fundamental shift not just in how or where we work, but how work fits into our overall lives and how our personal activities and family needs fit in our work lives. As a result, mobile is forcing a change in what’s considered acceptable at work and at home for many workers and that change will not diminish or go away. This is a cultural shift that’s happening globally and that means the corporate culture needs to adapt to what are quickly becoming new societal norms.

It’s also important to consider that these issues don’t just relate to the existing workforce. As our survey demonstrated, these are issues that individuals will consider in keeping or accepting a position. Therefore, a clear understanding of expectations and requirements around mobility, remote work, and shadow tasking need to be part of the recruitment process to ensure that prospective hires understand the work environment they will be entering and can decide whether or not it’s a good fit for them.

This is not just a technology issue

Although technology is at the crux of this culture shift, the issues of mobile guilt and shadow tasking are not truly IT issues. They’re corporate culture issues. IT and the CIO have a role to play in addressing them, but because these are culture and policy issues, they require the executive leadership, HR, and line of business managers to understand how our work style is changing and effectively and consistently address that change.

Here’s a checklist of how to begin addressing mobile guilt and avoiding the potential of mobile burnout among employees:

  • Reexamine company culture and values – What is the company’s mission? How is value defined and achieved? What is the ideal relationship between organization and employee? Do existing culture and value statements need an update, either in general or particular mobile and 21st century work habits?
  • Set expectations and/or requirements – Confusion and inconsistency in terms of policies and expectations add a sense of discomfort and make it difficult for workers to understand what is acceptable, expected, or encouraged. Setting clear policies around mobility, remote work, and handling personal tasks in the office are paramount to combatting mobile guilt. Employees need to understand exactly what they’re expected/allowed to do remotely and whether or not there are limits on what they do in the office. Clear goals about what needs to get done, regardless of where or when, need to be established and communicated.
  • Understand the differences between demographics – It’s also important to keep in mind that not all employees, their needs, and their comfort level in mixing work and personal life are the same. Millennials entering the workforce may feel much more comfortable with shadow tasking and working during personal time. Parents with young children may need to shadow task more at work while still needing family time when work tasks may not be desired or even feasible.
  • Plan goals and expectations based on different types of workers – Shadow tasking has different implications for different types of workers. The most obvious distinction is between salaried and hourly employees.  If someone is paid based on how many hours they work, that will require a different set of policies if they are working outside the office. Also some job roles lend themselves more to remote work or to the ability to check-in on personal tasks during the day.
  • Provide an open dialog with employees about these issues and listen to their needs, concerns, feedback – One of the biggest sources of workplace dissatisfaction in general occurs when employees don’t feel like their interests, concerns, or suggestions are being heard. Actively engaging workers about what works for them in terms of mobility, remote work, and shadow tasking is as key to successfully addressing mobile guilt as adapting policies and value statements.
  • Set clear and transparent privacy policies for mobile – Among all demographics surveyed, privacy was a key concern for devices that mix business and personal data. 29% of Gen M workers (and roughly the same amount of other demographics) said they would leave a job if an employer could view personal content on a mobile device. Being clear about privacy is crucial as these devices become ever more personal and life-critical.

Shadow tasking is becoming crucial in our daily lives. For many people, shadow tasking creates mobile guilt, but that doesn’t need to be the case. It is completely possible for organizations to address these issues without losing productivity or alienating workers. The key to doing so effectively is accepting the cultural shift shadow tasking represents, adopting appropriate policies, setting clear and reasonable expectations, and communicating clearly and transparently.

Ryan Faas

Ryan Faas,

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