July 22, 2016

How can HR teams handle distracted employees at work?

The smartphone game Pokemon Go became an overnight smash when it was released a couple of weeks ago. So much so that it has already been banned by one major employer. The aircraft manufacturer Boeing has issued a ban on employees playing it during office hours. Why? Boeing discovered that the augmented reality game had been downloaded onto more than 100 work phones since its release and one member of staff reportedly almost injured themselves while playing the game at work.

Boeing is not the only employer that is unhappy about people playing the app in work time. One anonymous boss sent out this message to employees:
“We are paying you to work, not chase fictional video game characters with your cell phone all day. Save it for your break time, otherwise you’ll have plenty of time unemployed to catch ‘em all”.

The message has since gone viral, complete with a picture of a Pokeball with a slash through it.

Pokemon Go first went live in the US, Australia and New Zealand. According to app analytics company, SimilarWeb, its popularity is such that there were soon more daily users on Android phones playing the app in the US than were on Twitter. By July 8th, two days after the game had been released, it was being used for an average of 43 minutes, 23 seconds a day. That’s a higher usage than Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and Messenger.

If those 43 minutes and 23 seconds of Pokemon Go time are taking place during a person’s leisure time and on their own device, it is not an issue. What is an issue for many employers is when the game is being played in work time on work phones. Or even if it is being played on a personal phone – it’s the work time bit that really matters. The problem for employers is that it is hard to police because the game is so readily available. It can be played at a person’s desk, as they walk around, in the lift…

A lot of people are reportedly playing it in their lunch break as the game requires players to walk around hunting Pokemon characters, using GPS to navigate their way. It only went live in the UK at the beginning of the week but it has already acquired a massive fan base. With employees that is. Employers are not always so keen.

When HR and employers think Pokemon Go might be becoming problematic, the best thing to do is send out a clear message stating the company’s policy and what the repercussions are if people ignore it.

Employers banning employees from playing computer games at work is by no means a new phenomenon. Back in 1995, the Milwaukee Sentinel in the US ran a story about Virginia State banning games because some workers were getting too distracted. What was the game in question? Solitaire. In order to enforce the ban, the state also insisted on the removal of all games that came with new Windows software.

Other facts about Pokemon Go:
There were 15.3 million tweets worldwide about Pokemon Go in its first week
Compare that to the 11.7 million tweets about Brexit in the week of the UK referendum
And the 7.5 million tweets about the Euro 2016 football championships in its first week
These statistics are according to a BBC news story.