An Oxymoron: Digital Addiction in Organizations

25.03.2024|Christian Kreutz

In their paper, "Digital Addiction (DA) in Organizations: Challenges and Policy Implications," Helen Lam and Mark Harcourt delve into the complexities of digital addiction within the workplace. The question arises: Is the root of this addiction the employees' online obsession or the companies' relentless pursuit of accelerated work in hopes of boosting output?

What makes their exploration particularly captivating is the definition of digital addiction they employ, adapted from Goncalves et al. (2018):

"Although there may not be a single universally used definition for DA, for the purpose of this paper, we adopt the straightforward definition from Goncalves et al. (2018), wherein DA is characterized as a behavioral addiction involving 'the lack of autonomy or independence to perform tasks without the use of digital devices such as mobile devices, the Internet, social networks, and the like.'"

In the modern workplace, completing tasks without resorting to digital tools is becoming increasingly rare. Can anyone truly afford to neglect their inbox for more than a day without facing repercussions? In many organizations, swift responses are not merely appreciated—they are expected. This definition would turn a large group of computer-based workers into digital addicts.

The boundaries blur when an "organization’s culture implicitly or explicitly promotes extreme digital reliance, potentially leading to DA." Fun fact: The researchers propose "digital dependence surveys" as a tool for assessment, prompting me to ponder: Who is nurturing this dependence? Is it the employee or the company?

Despite the ubiquity of these challenges, few organizations have critically evaluated the 'always-on' dilemma and the paradox that more communication often results in increased complexity rather than enhanced clarity. Some have implemented policies encouraging employees to disconnect from corporate channels outside work hours or on weekends.

However, a minority of organizations have actively sought to diminish reliance on rapid (and synchronous) communication channels, which have little to no proven benefit in boosting digital productivity. Instead, such practices frequently lead employees to spend more time online, detracting from their capacity to tackle complex problems in offline, social settings.

Source: Digital Addiction in Organizations: Challenges and Policy Implications