Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Treating Internet-Addicted Employees: Although Internet Addiction Is a New Area of Clinical Practice, EA Professionals Can Take Several Steps to Help Individuals Understand the Factors Underlying Their Online Habits and Reintegrate Past Activities into Their Lives

Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Treating Internet-Addicted Employees: Although Internet Addiction Is a New Area of Clinical Practice, EA Professionals Can Take Several Steps to Help Individuals Understand the Factors Underlying Their Online Habits and Reintegrate Past Activities into Their Lives

Article excerpt

Internet abuse is a rapidly growing problem in the workplace. According to Vault.com, an online analysis firm, 90 percent of workers surveyed admitted to surfing recreational sites during work hours and as much as 70 percent of Internet porn site traffic occurs during the regular workday hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

When confronted with cases of overt Internet abuse, many managers respond by suspending or dismissing employees from their jobs. While these actions put an end to employees' abuse of the Internet, they also generate hidden costs for the employer, such as recruitment and retraining expenses. They also create a climate of fear, distrust, and resentment in the workplace that can undermine productivity and cooperation among workers who are using their Internet accounts property.

Compounding these concerns, recent studies suggest that nearly 6 percent of online users suffer from Internet addiction, a disorder that can lead to significant psychological, occupational, and relationship impairment. Internet addiction typically is defined as an impulse-control disorder that does not involve an intoxicant. Common symptoms include a preoccupation with Internet use; lying about behavior; psychological withdrawal when offline; placing significant relationship, job, educational, and/or career opportunities in jeopardy because of the Internet; and an inability to control Internet use.

Unlike addictions to alcohol and drugs, Internet addiction is encouraged and reinforced by employers, which rely on this and other technologies to gain a competitive advantage. Given the relative newness of the disorder, it can easily be overlooked by EA professionals evaluating employees who are referred for clinical services.

EA professionals must increasingly be aware of the implications of employee Internet abuse and its potential for addiction. EA professionals can play a significant role in finding solutions to Internet addiction by learning the dynamics associated with the disorder and implementing strategies to address it. By properly assessing for Internet addiction and referring or treating employees appropriately, EA professionals can help reduce corporate concerns about Internet abuse and enable employers and employees to use this technology to build greater organizational cohesion.

SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION

Similar to an alcoholic who needs to consume ever-greater amounts of alcohol to achieve satisfaction, Internet addicts need to spend increasing amounts of time online. Internet addicts will go to great lengths to mask the nature of their online activities and conceal the extent and nature of their behavior. As with most impulse-control disorders, Internet addiction often is associated with increasingly painful states of tension and agitation that are relieved through the completion of the act.

For example, an alcoholic is driven to drink or an overeater is driven to binge on food during moments of excessive tension. In each case, the compulsive behavior serves to reduce the underlying emotional tension and reward future behavior. In the same manner, an Internet addict's use of the computer is less about using it as an information tool and more about finding a psychological escape to cope with life's problems.

While time is not a direct symptom of Internet addiction, addicts generally are excessive about their online usage, often spending 40 to 80 hours per week online. Addicts generally stay awake surfing the Internet past midnight and into the early hours of the morning, disrupting their sleep patterns and, subsequently, their work performance. Such sleep deprivation can also compromise the immune system, leaving the addict vulnerable to disease. Sitting at the computer for prolonged periods also means that addicts don't get proper exercise and are at greater risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Underlying Internet addiction is a desire to escape from emotional difficulties (e. …

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