Are you doing yourself a disservice and running the risk of health problems by using your personal mobile phone, computer and other electronic devices for your work? According to Jason Micallef, you could be.

A software product UX and creative services manager, Jason investigated the hidden perils of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for his University of Liverpool online computer science master’s degree.

“My research was focused on the use of mobile devices in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) landscape and how these can negatively impact the privacy and work-life balance (WLB) of knowledge workers,” said Jason, who works for Aurea Software and GFI Software.

“This topic was of particular interest because of the tremendous traction that BYOD has gained in the industry. My focus on the dangers from the viewpoint of knowledge workers was driven by the lack of literature and research on this matter, despite the fact that knowledge workers are most at risk.

“For knowledge workers, BYOD is hugely appealing because it saves the aggravation of carrying multiple devices for personal and professional use. It also cuts out the need to learn how to use a new (company) device. Businesses can leverage increased productivity and employee performance while saving on hardware and other costs. BYOD can, however, have serious implications for health that many people underestimate.

Privacy and balance

“Privacy and work-life balance have an intertwined relationship in the BYOD landscape; this is primarily driven by the use of a single mobile device for both personal and professional purposes. Over 70% of knowledge workers in BYOD-driven companies fail to, or find it hard to physically and effectively segment personal artefacts (emails, phone directory, etc.) from professional ones on their personal device. This generally is the catalyst for knowledge workers’ stressors including privacy invasion, role ambiguity, employment insecurity, work overload and work-home conflict,” said Jason.

To make matters worse, being constantly connected via your personal device makes it harder for knowledge workers to switch from work mode and focus on quality personal time. “As a result,” said Jason, “BYOD environments tend to lead to overwork, sleep deprivation and other effects, with direct impact on knowledge workers’ behaviour including mental and eating disorders, stress, heart problems, and interpersonal skill deficiencies”.

“My hypothesis is that that the use of personal devices for work purposes erodes the boundaries that should exist between personal and professional life, causing the previously mentioned health disorders,” he said.

The work-life balance app

Jason proposed a mobile app concept to mitigate the adverse BYOD effects outlined in his online master’s dissertation.

“BYOD has become highly reliant on each individual professional’s self-discipline to uphold privacy and to balance personal and professional life. Companies generally limit their HR liabilities by issuing written policies and adopting technology mostly to safeguard company data rather than employee sanity.

“In a landscape where an estimated 40% of knowledge workers are overworking, reliance only on self-discipline and written policies is not enough; technological countermeasures are needed to mitigate the risks. I proposed an app to fill this gap.

“The app could help hard-pressed employees to increase their privacy by taking them through a wizard-assisted process to create separate virtual containers for their personal and professional artefacts/activities on a single device. The app could also help them establish a balanced work-life schedule – driven by an internal configurable rule-set and enforced by NFC technologies – to automatically switch mobile device functions based on the location, time and day. For example, if a worker is in the bedroom or driving a vehicle, work emails, calls and alerts could be automatically switched off. Dashboards with insights into privacy and WLB status would keep workers informed, while visual/audible alerts would nudge workers when risks are sensed,” said Jason.

Jason graduated from his online master’s degree programme in July 2017 – with plans to conduct further research and move the app from a concept to a prototype.

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