Gen M Suffers From Mobile Guilt

Employees' attachment — sometimes addiction — to mobile devices isn't an IT issue, but a corporate culture factor. Here's how to develop workplace strategies around it.

I was a bit careless last week. I forgot to take my keys to work on Wednesday, and all day I had to borrow a bathroom key, coordinate when to get home so I could be let in, couldn’t go to the gym because I was missing my lock’s key. It was frustrating, but it got worse.

On Friday, I forgot my phone. Every two minutes I’d reach for it, not because I felt a vibration or because I was getting a phone call, but rather because I couldn’t help myself. Checking my phone has become a mechanical movement, like breathing or blinking. And I’m not alone. We are all totally, hopelessly addicted, so much so that there is now even a term for a fear of losing a phone: nomophobia.

We know mobile usage is changing our lives — but did you know it’s leading to a significant amount of guilt? I interviewed Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy for mobile device management shop MobileIron to find out more.

Who is Gen M?
Rege: The MobileIron Gen M Survey identified the demographics of highly mobile professionals across six countries, including how mobile devices and apps have become essential to managing their personal and work lives, and how those lives are increasingly overlapping. We also asked them how mixing work tasks during personal time or doing personal activities during the workday makes them feel.

We learned that the two primary demographics that define generation mobile, or “Gen M,” are professionals who use a mobile device for work: young men (18-34) and people with children under 18 in their households.

We weren’t surprised to see young men in this group — we know they love their mobile devices. But Gen M also includes a not-so-obvious group: parents with young kids at home. Parents cannot afford to be disconnected from their personal lives for eight hours a day. Staying connected to both their work and personal activities is very important to them.

But all this hyper-connectivity is leading to a phenomenon of mobile guilt. In fact, the MobileIron study found that 58 percent of Gen M feels guilty as if they’re stealing time either from their employer to do personal tasks or from their family to work.

How does Gen M use mobile at work? How do they use it at home?
Rege: Mobile has empowered Gen M to switch between work and personal in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

On average, Gen M does more than a quarter (26 percent) of its work on smartphones or tablets, compared to non-Gen M professionals, which do 17 percent. Gen M also uses mobile for “shadow tasking,” or doing personal activities during work hours and work activities during personal time throughout the day.

For Gen M, shadow tasking is the way they manage the often-simultaneous demands of their work and personal lives:

  • 82 percent of Gen M does at least one personal task on a mobile device per day during work hours across the six countries.
  • 64 percent of Gen M does at least one work task on mobile per day during personal hours.
  • 71 percent of American men age 18-34 use their mobile device for work while lying in bed.

In the U.S., 56 percent of men ages 18-34 and one-third of all those surveyed use their phone for work while in the bathroom. So if someone in your office lends you his or her iPhone, just say no.

Ojas Rege, MobileIron
Ojas Rege, MobileIron

These 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.

What are their thoughts about mobile? They’re clearly strong adopters, but have they noticed stress or other side effects from being so connected?
Rege: 61 percent of Gen M workers across the six countries said they experienced guilt as a result of this shadow tasking at home. At the same time, roughly the same number of Gen M employees (60 percent) said that they would leave their job if their employer didn’t allow them to work remotely or if their employer restricted their ability to perform personal tasks during the official workday.

As mobile continues to become a deeper and more intrinsic part of our personal and work lives, these work-life boundaries will continue to blur. Wearables, such as the Apple Watch, will accelerate this shift as they increase our connectedness. 42%Forty-two percent of Gen M individuals across the six countries either already own or are planning to buy a wearable device. Of those, 95 percent, virtually all of them, plan to use it for work tasks. Given we feel guilty when we feel like we’re stealing time from either our employer to do personal tasks or from our family and friends to do work tasks, increased adoption of wearables 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?
Rege: If employees are feeling guilty about using mobile devices to shadow task, then they perceive themselves as having committed an offense — to their employer, co-workers, 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.
How do they overcome it?
Rege: 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.
They will 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 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.
As our survey demonstrated, these are issues that individuals will consider in keeping or accepting a position. Therefore, businesses need a clear understanding of expectations for connectedness and policies that support the way employees want to work. These policies 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.

What differences did you find between the Gen M workers in the six different countries surveyed?
Rege: The study found that both mobile guilt and shadow tasking are global phenomenon.

  • French professionals are the most likely to do mobile work while driving.
  • German professionals are the most likely to feel guilty when receiving personal communications at work.
  • Japanese professionals are the least likely to do mobile work while watching TV.
  • Spanish professionals are the most likely to do mobile work while using public transportation.
  • U.K. professionals are the most likely to use mobile to monitor their home during the workday.
  • U.S. professionals are the most likely to do mobile work while using the bathroom.

What are the implications for HR professionals?
Rege: This is not just a technology issue; it is a corporate culture and HR 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. CIOs [chief information officers] 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:

– Re-examine 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 can create 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 is paramount to combatting mobile guilt. Employees need to understand exactly what they’re expected or allowed to do remotely as well as any limits on what they do in the office. Managers need to establish and communicate clear goals about what needs to get done, regardless of where or when.

– Understand the differences between demographics. It’s also important to remember that not all workers are the same. Employees have different needs and varying comfort levels in mixing work and personal life. Millennials entering the workforce may feel much more comfortable with mixing work and personal tasks. Parents may need to shadow task more at work while still needing some personal time that is free of work obligations.

– 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 of their scheduled office hours. Also, some job roles lend themselves more to remote work or to the ability to manage personal obligations during the day.

– Provide an open dialogue with employees about these issues and listen to their needs, concerns, and feedback. Workplace dissatisfaction occurs when employees don’t feel like the company is paying attention to their interests, concerns, or suggestions. HR should actively engage workers about what works for them in terms of mobility, remote work, and shadow tasking and adapt policies and value statements. This proactive approach can alleviate mobile guilt.

– Set clear and transparent privacy policies for mobile. Among all demographics surveyed, personal data privacy, including personal emails, texts, and photos, was a key concern. Twenty-nine percent 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 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.