iPods should be banned from work: lawyers

A UK law firm is risking being labelled a bunch of Luddites by arguing that businesses should clamp down on iPod use in the workplace because it enables employees to slack off and shut out their colleagues. The tabloids are going to love this one — I can see the headlines now: “IPOD ADVICE FALLS ON DEAF EARS.” Or how about, “LAWYERS SAY TURNING ON, TUNING IN IS COP OUT”.The law firm Mace & Jones said it is “seriously concerned” by research from the design company Woods Bagot, which found that more than one in five workers are listening to iPods and similar devices at their desks. Just under a quarter of employees used their MP3 music player for up to three hours a day in offices, according to the study. The survey authors estimate 30% of firms are now banning them from the office.

Mace & Jones’ head of employment law, Martin Edwards, said firms are well within their rights to clamp down on iPod use to prevent workers “slacking and shutting out colleagues”.

The company didn’t stop there — it doled out the old line that firms should take a tough line on non-work-related Internet use. Especially in the run-up to Christmas, because online Xmas present shopping will cost the company money in lost productivity, according to Mace and Jones.

“This is not about party pooping this is about running an efficient organized office,” said Edwards. “Every hour a member of staff spends looking for Christmas presents online is an hour they should have spent working.”

They make some good points — it seems common sense that if a company wants to foster an environment in which discussion and collaboration thrives, that they might want to discourage long stints of iPod usage.

The Internet usage vs. productivity one is a little less clear-cut, to my mind. For every employee that spends an hour buying presents online during work hours, there’s probably another who adds an extra half hour to a few of their lunch breaks in order to get their Chrimbo shopping done without impinging on their hectic social life. Or who comes in late or leaves early because they popped to the shops for some panic present buying.

There are limits of acceptable behaviour in all things, whether iPods, the Internet, smoking breaks, personal calls or indeed the reading of lengthy blogs. I would argue that companies should tread carefully here, because making the workplace too stuffy, stifling or regimented could actually lower morale and thus reduce productivity.

Employees can use all sorts of tactics to distract themselves from actually working if they so choose — companies whose employees are already using iPods as one of those distractions should possibly ask themselves if there is any way they could make those employees’ tasks and responsibilities more stimulating. A proactive, rather than reactive approach to employee productivity might be better for many employees.

What about remote and mobile employees? Do you monitor whether they ever listen to music, or surf the Internet during the working day? Is it fair on employees in the office to have strict monitoring when colleagues who work remotely do not? Why do you have different levels of trust for remote and office-bound employees?

If you do want to discourage the use of iPods in the office, perhaps you should put a copy of your iPod usage policy in podcast format on your intranet for workers to download. Otherwise, the message may well fall on deaf ears*. Ha ha.

* I’m not suggesting iPods make you permanently deaf (though some** do), only temporarily deaf to noises outside of your headphones if you have the volume set high.

** To be clear when I say ‘some’ I mean ‘some commentators’, not ‘some iPods’.

The law firm Mace and Jones is here.

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