Sunday, February 14, 2010


Human resource professionals often must deal with competing demands to recognize managerial demands for productivity while they consider the personal needs of organizational participants. The “hype” involving computer
networking often obscures the complex social issues involved. Even though
there are downturns in the high-tech economy, changes in the Internet applications available to employees are still fast paced. By the time research results are available to inform the decision making of HR departments, many of the issues involved will change in character. HR professionals should thus themselves be conversant with Internet applications and be aware of industry trends so as to be ready when new concerns emerge (such as increasingly sophisticated wireless Internet games).
As workplaces have evolved, so have the issues that have divided employers and managers. Some organizations have taken positive steps to help employees deal with workplace and home pressures and have recognized the importance of loyalty . However, conflict has ensued for decades on an assortment of matters relating to the quality of work life, often leading to dysfunctional confrontations . Today, employees who guess wrong about online recreation standards — or choose to violate them — often pay large penalties, even being demoted or fired. Some managers have devised negative sanctions for these infringements far more severe than those applied to comparable face-to-face interaction. OfficeNworkers paging through paper catalogs in idle minutes rarely face the harsh penalties that those caught shopping online often encounter, even though few computer systems can be construed as “overtaxed” by online shopping.
Companies have encountered considerable penalties as well: Microsoft agreed to a $2.2 million settlement in a sexual-harassment suit involving pornographic messages distributed in an organizational e-mail .
Hard-line positions against forms of online recreation may be required in
some instances and directly related to important organizational goals. For instance, air traffic controllers should be expected to keep focused on landing
real airplanes rather than escape into fantasy games during assigned hours.
However, some hard-line restrictions can reflect fear or lack of understanding of online realms. Management may assume that online recreation will foster or encourage Internet addiction or related concerns. “Internet addiction” has become a widely identified syndrome, although its medical underpinnings are still in question . The kinds of non-work activities that are allowed in organizations often mirror managerial culture and values, from softball teams to holiday celebrations. Hard-line restrictions against online recreation and the monitoring of workstations to implement them are of symbolic importance, signaling to organizational participants the “proper” way to view the online workplace and themselves as human beings. Overly restricting online recreation may prevent employees from exploring the full potential of the Internet for productive intellectual and social endeavors.
However, a laissez-faire approach may also serve to demoralize workplaces by allowing some individuals to exploit the diligence of team members and possibly even disturb the sensibilities of unfortunate onlookers.
Ambiguities concerning online work and play in virtual realms are increasingly adding complexities to these issues .
It is often difficult to tell which websites are related to business needs and which are recreational; many have dual purposes, combining amusement with news and other serious pursuits. has humorous material as well as valuable technical commentary, and has stories on upcoming movies as well as current economic results. Helpful intelligent agents (some with cartoon-like manifestations) can add levity to everyday tasks. Surfing the Internet for an answer to a question or fiddling with various programs can interfere with productive effort, as individuals dwell on technological nuances. Perfecting an organizational newsletter’s format can be so involving that individuals lose a sense of proportion as to its business relevance. Managers and employees need to deal not only with recreational concerns but also with broader issues of how to integrate computing into workplaces in ways that are engaging yet productive.
Workplace realities have changed in a tightening economy, and few expect that stability and continuity will replace flux. For many employees the social and recreational activities that are needed for them to function optimally have to be obtained during breaks and unoccupied moments in the workplace rather than after-work initiatives. Many employees (especially in high-tech fields) are on call for long periods, with their know-how required for troubleshooting networks or debugging software programs. Online recreation is part of some individuals’ efforts to make these lengthy and demanding working hours more tolerable. A number of online recreational activities can be conducted while productive activity is going on, in a kind of human multitasking. Such multitasking can provide problems if individuals overreach their capacities, in ways comparable to the problem of drivers who engage in cell phone conversations on the road . Individuals can check online sports scores while on hold for a telephone call, which can relieve frustration. However, online recreation should not be exploited as a means to keep individuals glued to workstations for indefinite periods in lieu of reasonable work schedules and functional work-life balances.
Solutions as to how to couple online work and play are emerging in
organizations that are tailored to specific workplace contexts. Managers and
employees are gaining important experience in resolving these issues as
individuals perform activities away from direct supervision via mobile or virtual office configurations. Managers are learning how to perform their functions without direct employee surveillance. Employees are learning higher levels of self-discipline and the skills of balancing online work and play — just as they have learned to balance face-to-face schmoozing with task orientation in the physical world. Thus setting severe restrictions on online recreation can serve to slow down the process of understanding how to migrate the organization
into virtual realms and establish trust. Responsibility and respect for others
in these realms can be difficult to acquire, and many employees will indeed need direction. Those who stray from “netiquette” standards in online discussions are generally given guidance as to how they have deviated. Similar kinds of community and peer support will help individuals use recreation constructively in online contexts.

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