Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Internet Addiction Prevention and Education: Preventive Education Training Can Reduce Problematic Internet Use in the Workplace and Help Employers Create a Work Environment That Encourages Identification and Treatment of Addictive Online Behaviors

Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Internet Addiction Prevention and Education: Preventive Education Training Can Reduce Problematic Internet Use in the Workplace and Help Employers Create a Work Environment That Encourages Identification and Treatment of Addictive Online Behaviors

Article excerpt

This is the second of two articles exploring Internet addiction and the workplace; the first discussed how employee assistance professionals can help workers understand the factors underlying their online habits and reintegrate former activities into their lives.

Over the past decade, employee Internet abuse has become a growing business problem. Employees who play online games, chat with online friends, or look at online pornography during work hours not only cut into corporate productivity but also diminish profits.

Most alarming for employers is the growing legitimacy of Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, thereby investing finns with significant liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, fired workers have sued thier former employers for wrongful termination, claiming that they suffer from a mental disorder and holding the company responsible for providing access to the "digital drug." While such claims seems frivolous and even ludicrous to employers, more cases are being seen in court each year.

While managers may recognize and acknowledge the costs associated with employees who misuse and abuse the Internet during work hours, many do not yet realize how problematic online use can easily turn into a psychological addiction. EA professionals can use their clinical knowledge to help educate business leaders to effectively address Internet addiction in the workplace.

STAYING CURRENT

Companies have long relied upon written policies to convey the importance of appropriate Internet use within the workplace, but studies reveal that employee Internet abuse is on the rise despite the development and implementation of such policies. Companies are also having difficulty updating policies to stay current with new technologies.

Assume, for example, that a firm moves from Intranet-based e-mail access to a wireless system and supplies its employees with Blackberry devices that can access online accounts. The firm must then modify its Internet use policy to incorporate these new applications. Unfortunately, companies often upgrade workplace technologies without updating the accompanying use policies, leaving themselves at legal risk if an employee abuses the new technologies and no specific policies are in place to warn against it.

Corporate training that targets employee Internet use and its potential for addiction is an effective way to communicate Internet use polices and aid in preventing suspected cases of online abuse. In most cases, however, employers limit Internet training to teaching workers how to use the Internet. If addiction problems emerge, employees are unaware of how to cope and often are reluctant to seek help.

EA professionals can utilize educational programming to present key job training issues that teach employees how to effectively integrate computer technology into organizational settings. Research has found that educational training programs on Internet addiction have proven effective in preventing new cases and improving employee satisfaction and cohesion with new technologies.

Studies also have shown the benefits of prevention and education programs in helping employees better understand written Internet use policies and reinforcing their message. Employee education helps improve compliance with written policies that mandate employee accountability and ethical integrity when online. In addition, education enhances employees' responsibility when using workplace technologies, improving overall organizational efficiency and performance.

EA professionals can play a significant role as change agents by being at the forefront of implementing educational programs. Like sensitivity training for sexual harassment or cultural diversity issues, prevention and education programs on Internet addiction can reduce the occurrence of future incidents and decrease corporate liability and risk. Such training should address key issues such as early detection, online time management, risk factors for abuse, co-worker involvement, and creating a corporate culture that supports treatment and recovery

PROMOTING EARLY DETECTION

In the past, supervisors worried if sudden changes in personnel performance signaled alcoholism or drug dependence. …

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