Blackberry users lured into Faustian pact

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Research examining the love/hate relationship Australian executives have developed with their BlackBerrys describes ownership of the popular e-mail device as akin to signing a Faustian pact.

The study's findings, which were released yesterday by the University of Sydney, found that while the device improves efficiency it also leads to very little corporate downtime.

Time spent commuting or any other spare time executives once had is now replaced responding to e-mails.

Lead researcher, Dr Kristine Dery, said unlike a laptop, a BlackBerry is seen as more accessible and mobile.

Therefore, it is more prone to blur the lines between work and personal lives.

Dery, a lecturer at the university's department of work and organisational studies, conducted 30 in-depth interviews with two major banks based in Australia and Paris.

She was assisted by Dr Judith MacCormick of the University of NSW and Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts from HEC in Paris.

While the ability to clear e-mails in a taxi or in a lift helped some executives "hit the ground running" when they arrived at work, others expressed resentment at losing valuable reading and thinking space.

"Interviewees typically commented that they felt switched on to work from the moment they left home in the mornings," Dery said.

"One senior employee of a financial services firm said he no longer read on his two hour commute each day but used the time to clear e-mails."

When describing how they felt about their BlackBerry, Dery said executives used terms like 'Trojan Horse' or Faustian pact.

"BlackBerry use has grown rapidly in the last six years, from being a senior management status symbol to a basic tool of trade," she said.

"Some companies felt they needed to be seen by competitors and customers as using the latest technology. But we found most organisations treated BlackBerries as an extension of the mobile phone, thus assigning the management of this technology to purchasing departments.

"The BlackBerry is changing the way we work significantly, and offers organisations many more opportunities for future changes."

With the exception of time management training and e-mail policies, Dery said companies have given very little thought to the impact of the BlackBerry in the workforce.

She believes it is a very real problem for organisations leading to executive stress and burn-out.

"This is particularly true when it comes to talent retention and organisational effectiveness," Dery added.

"Management needs to think about how to harness the benefits of BlackBerries, increasing productivity and efficiency, while minimising the downside."

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Sandra Rossi

Computerworld

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