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8/21/2006
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Always Connected To Office? Troubled Times Ahead

Employees and employers could be facing hard times--and legal issues--if they don't strive for a work/life balance...and leave the gadgets at home.

Jana Eggers experienced a technology meltdown while cruising through the Greek Isles on vacation. The Intuit Inc. general manager for QuickBase did her homework to confirm the cruise ship had wireless Internet access before heading out to sea.

But while at sea, a glitch in Outlook prevented Eggers from gaining access to e-mail, and the satellite connection onboard proved too slow to fix the problem. Top that off with a failed Blackberry that foiled any attempt to gain access once she reached land.

"Someone was trying to tell me not to do work while on vacation," Eggers laughed. "I was so proud of myself for having the backup I needed to get the job done, even though I tell my group, when they go on vacation, take a vacation."

Technology keeps us connected seven days a week. But if that sounds like an employer's dream come true, think again says Gayle Porter, an associate professor of management at the Rutgers University School of Business in Camden, N.J.

Companies that give employees BlackBerrys and cellular modems, providing always-on connectivity, may wind up with lawsuits, if they don't promote balance between work and play, Porter warned Monday. "The relentless pace of technology-enhanced work environments can create stimulation that may become addictive," she said.

A report scheduled for release later this month, looks at how long until people's lives get "screwed up" by spending too much time at work, and begin to look for someone to blame. Porter thinks in the near future, employees will turn to employers and say "not only did you let me do this, but the pressure to get promoted and not laid off led to this addictive behavior."

People who smoked for years, in spite of the warnings turned around and sued tobacco companies for their health problems. Others attempted to sue fast food chains, claiming ignorance after consuming a burger and fries daily, which made them unhealthy.

Society has failed "when we have to resort to litigation to clear things up that should be easy or apparent," Intuit's Eggers said. "It's too easy to log onto the Internet to check e-mail and five hours later the kids are hungry and the dogs are waiting by the door. As managers we must remain vigilant to make sure we know when and how work is getting done.

Companies like Intuit and Courion Corp. encourage employees to have a work-life balance because experts like Porter believe there's a fine line between addiction and staying connected.

Chris Zannetos, the CEO for Courion, a security software and services company, hopes the welcome letter and gift certificate to a local restaurant each new employee receives sends a message to maintain a work-life balance.

"I can see how technology could become addictive, but we try to stress that our employees keep a balance," Zannetos said. "If you're going to build a business and compete against large companies, you might need to use technology like a Blackberry. You just can't get caught up in it."

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