Think About IT:Work Ethic and the New Technology

Cameron Pettigrew thought of himself as an exemplary employee. ((This article is quoted in its entirety from www.kairosjournal.org)) In two and a half years at Fidelity Investments, he earned multiple company honors and was even offered a job at the corporation’s prestigious Wall Street branch. But then Fidelity got wind of his receiving an instant message at work about how poorly a National Football League player was performing. That led to an investigation, and Pettigrew was fired the next day for running a fantasy football league on company time. Fidelity called the league gambling through the use of company time and equipment and previously had warned all employees in an email, “[F]antasy sports activities [are] not permitted on company time.” ((Steve Schwarz, “Fired for Playing Fantasy Football,” Sports Network Website, December 18, 2009, http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=fantasy-nfl/news/news.aspx?id=4274390 (accessed January 22, 2010).)) And Pettigrew is not an isolated case. One report estimates that companies lose as much as $1.5 billion annually when their employees play fantasy football at work. ((“This is based on the assumption that every fantasy football player actually works at an office.” See Nando Di Fino, “A Fantasy Player’s Worst Nightmare,” Wall Street Journal Website, December 18, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703523504574604233198387734.html (accessed January 22, 2010).)) Yet this is only part of a larger trend: using technology to waste time that should be spent working.

Increasingly, experts are confirming through research that the use of social media is often a way for workers to rob their employers—an act of insubordination that can take several forms. For instance, 53% of workers under 24 say that socializing through their mobile electronic devices or entertaining themselves online is their primary “time wasting” activity at work. Almost two-thirds of employees with Facebook accounts access them at work, translating into a 1.5% loss of total employee productivity across an organization. ((Jeffery Zaslow, “The Greatest Generation (of Networkers),”  Wall Street Journal Website, November 5, 2009, http://online.wej.com/article/SB10001424052748704746304574505643153518708.html (accessed January 22,2010).))

Of course, technology used properly can result in savings of both time and money. Telecommuting allows workers to remain productive when bad weather keeps them away from the office. Online meetings save companies thousands of dollars in travel expenses required for face-to-face gatherings. Email prevents the requisite delay when letters are delivered through traditional mail channels. And text messages allow quick communication with other colleagues.

In the business world, electronics retailer Best Buy used new forms of media to create IT systems allowing all 150,000 of its employees to collaborate on important projects. The new systems helped the company increase productivity and cut steps in several standard processes. ((Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World (New York: McGraw Hill, 2009), 158.))

The downside of such technologies is that too many workers use them for individual convenience instead of company benefit. ((See also Kairos Journal article, “Technological Rudeness.”))  For example, on the Monday following Thanksgiving in 2009, more than half of all online purchases were made from work computers. That is significant given that Cyber Monday, as it is called, ranks among the busiest online shopping days of the year. ((Kathy Shwiff, “Retailers, Electronics, Toys Sites Up in November,” Wall Street Journal Website, December 28, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20091228-704456.html (accessed January 22, 2010).))  The NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March presents another temptation for employees to steal time. Broadcaster CBS airs all of the games online complete with a “boss button” that workers can click to bring up a mock spreadsheet in case a supervisor walks by while they are watching basketball unlawfully. ((The “boss button” was clicked 2.5 million times during the tournament in 2008 and was sponsored in 2009 by Comcast. See Eric Benderoff, “NCAA Tournament: CBS Winning in the Online-Revenue Bracket,” Chicago Tribune Website, March 19, 2009, http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/mar/19/business/chi-tc-biz-thu-march-madness-onlmar19 (accessed January 22, 2010).))

Certainly, past eras presented opportunities for workplace time wasting too. Long before the Internet came to be, personal phone calls, extended water-cooler conversations, and lying about sick days robbed companies of work hours that were rightfully theirs. But the Internet and social media offer more opportunities than ever for laziness, distractions, and dishonesty at an employer’s expense. Of course there are legitimate exceptions and qualifications to the general rule, but the problem is very real. And this is a place for Christians to be counter-cultural in their integrity and thoughtfulness. So all should pause in their flurry of electronic activity long enough to make sure it does not reflect a heart that refuses to give employers what is rightly theirs.