Pokemon No Go

Question:

 I run a small department within a larger company. The company’s overall rules are strict, but I supervise creative types and believe in looser rules. I have six employees, five of whom love Pokemon Go. While I don’t personally play it, I think it adds value to the work day, as it gives them something they share in common.

None of them play it during the work day; they do, however, play it aggressively during the noon hour and after work.

I’ve received a call from my boss to “shut it down.” Is there any way to fight this with my boss, given my employees play on their own time? And how do I present it to my employees if I can’t talk him out of his edict?

Answer:

If you want to change your boss’s mind, you’ll need to explain Pokemon Go’s benefits to him. Before you do so, make sure you know the truth and liabilities.

Here’s what’s happened since Pokemon Go launched. Thirty million users downloaded the app within its first two weeks, surpassing twitter. According to a July 2016 Forbes poll, 69% of the users play it during the work day, with one-third of them saying they play for more than one hour a day at work.

The game has real benefits; it gets coworkers talking, working together, and sharing in something both exploratory and competitive.  The app’s benefits, sociability, mystery, fantasy, escapism, and success can also lure people away from work, and lead them to check their app when walking to a meeting in case there’s a Pokemon nearby.

You say your employees play only on their personal time. You may indeed be able to trust your employees to limit their game involvement to after work hours. Other supervisors may find this harder, as many users find the game to be addictive, and playing requires players to keep the app open on their phones.

If employees download the app on company-issued Smartphones, and you condone their playing, you and your company may share in the liability should something go wrong. A quick Internet search showed thieves used the game to lure players to a location where they robbed them (Illinois), a player watching the screen while driving side-swiped a police cruiser (Baltimore) and another drove into a tree (Auburn), another walked into traffic and was hit by a car (Pittsburg) and two players focused on the game walked off a cliff and fell 50 to 90 (Encinitas).

The app records the surroundings as the player searches for fictional characters, which could create workplace privacy issues. Security bloggers noticed the app initially requested permission to use a player’s smartphone camera and location data and to gain full access to the user’s Google accounts, including email, calendars, photos, stored documents and any other data associated with the login. This was later updated to “know who you are on Google” and “view your email address,” however, this app may be highly vulnerable to hacking and many employees have sensitive company data on their Smartphones.

What do employers need to do to limit their liability? First, they need to clearly define and communicate company rules concerning acceptable use of mobile devices during work hours. They need to define and enforce their no cell phone use while driving policies.

Managers need to lead by example and limit any Smartphone distractions. If employees see managers constantly using their mobile devices on non-working matters, employees will follow suit.

Before you meet with your boss, realize that your supervisory practices may pose a liability to your company in this and other areas. If another supervisor in your company fires an employee for rule-violating behavior you condone, particularly if the fired employee fits a protected category, your company might lose the wrongful termination lawsuit.

Finally, if your boss does shut the game down, remind your employees they can access the game on their own mobile devices after work, making the only real change that they need to use their own Smartphones. Also, try to show them the employer’s side. You may find it hard to do this if you think your boss and other supervisors in your company are so strict that they stifle creativity.  If that’s true, work harder to change their minds in this and other areas, for the benefit of all employees in your company.

©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at http://www.bullywhisperer.com.

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