Bank CIOs Find Solutions to 'Mobile Guilt'

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Americans are feeling guiltier than ever about working when they're at home and dealing with family matters when they are at work.

Just over half of U.S. consumers automatically feel guilty when they get a work-related communication outside of working hours, according to a study conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by MobileIron; 49% feel badly when they respond to personal communications at the office.

At the heart of all this guilt is the notion of stealing. Working at home or on vacation can feel like its stealing time away from family and friends while conducting personal affairs during work hours could equal stealing from an employer.

The issue is becoming more important for bank chief information officers and IT departments.

"The 'always-connected' world we live in today is both a curse and a blessing," said Bruce Livesay, CIO of the $24 billion-asset First Horizon in Memphis. "It definitely creates an additional challenge and opportunity for employee behavior. Sometimes it's important to turn it off so you can focus on the most important matter at hand. On the other hand, these devices enable you to stay on top of work activities beyond the boundaries of your desktop and office."

So-called "mobile guilt" may intensify if smart watches take off and employees get in the habit of constantly checking their watches as well as their phones for text messages, phone calls and emails.

"It's a continued march toward distraction," said James Gordon, chief technology officer at $1.7 billion-asset Needham Bank in Needham, Mass. "I saw a study that said the average human attention span is less than eight seconds. The Apple Watch aids that constant sense that something else is going on."

[Gordon is correct in his stats. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013.]

Gordon feels the pressure in his own work life.

"It's the guilt of being completely connected all the time," he said.

For example, he's been using the VIP list feature Apple released in iOS 7, which causes text messages, emails, and other communications from a certain set of people pop to the top of the log screen.

"It's good, you're now more responsive to the people you say are more important in your life," he said. "But it does create a sense of urgency. Some people can take a couple of deep breaths and think, it's not urgent, I don't have to respond to them until tomorrow. My fear is by tomorrow, it will be 50 messages deep and I will have forgotten about it and they'll think I'm neglecting them."

He recently set his iPhone to a silent, do-not-disturb mode from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Livesay said he's found it helpful to designate certain times, such as the family dinner hour, free of mobile devices.

"There are times where you want to have access to the device in case of a crisis situation, but you need the discipline to set it down and focus on other matters as a general rule," he said.

It's not clear whether or how IT departments should address the issue. Locking down employees' mobile devices so that they can't be used for personal matters is not an option, executives agree.

"Over 60% of workers said they'd quit their job if they weren't able to do work on mobile and mix and match personal and professional stuff," said Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at MobileIron. "If you want to attract and retain these workers you have to be able to support their lifestyle and workstyle."

But the IT department can set an example around appropriate mobile messaging outside work hours.

"Managers shouldn't create a culture where mobile guilt can thrive," Gordon said. If an emergency occurs, then it's reasonable to contact employees on their mobile devices and expect a quick reaction. But other than that, managers should be judicious about contacting employees at home.

"There comes a level of trust to not abuse it, not to send out superfluous messages on the weekends or nights of hey, what's the status of that patch management server you were working on today?" he said. "That's not what somebody wants at 8:00 p.m. IT should set a tone and an example."

Earlier in his career, Gordon would fire emails off to staff on nights and weekends about what to do for the coming week.

"I didn't think anything of it at the time, but in hindsight that was the wrong thing to do," he said. "It stresses people out, when they should be recouping and relaxing for the coming week. If you wouldn't call them on nights and weekends, should you email them?"

Now, he sometimes uses delayed delivery, so that even if he writes emails to staff over the weekend, they don't see them until 8:00 a.m. Monday -- "not to be sneaky but because I don't want to stress them out."

Livesay agrees that companies and their IT departments can provide guidance to their employees about what is acceptable and appropriate. His bank doesn't have formal policies around time restrictions on emails, instant messages, phone calls or voice mails. But it does have guidelines around the use of personal communication at work and communications with employees at home after hours. Generally speaking, the guidance is to keep it brief.

"In the end, however, each person must learn to use the tools appropriately for their own situation to try to strike an appropriate balance," he said. "If mobile devices are not managed properly, they can encourage behaviors that are unhealthy and all-consuming."

At the same time, IT has to resolve the related privacy issues. Thirty-five percent of workers surveyed said they'd quit if their employer could read their personal emails and texts, or see their photos and videos on their personal smartphone or tablet.

To provide privacy, the tech team can set up containers on mobile devices to keep personal and work files separated.

"Corporate information can have a high degree of sensitivity and customer protection needs to be a constant consideration," Livesay said. His bank recently invested in mobile device management software that enables the separation of personal information from work information.

At Needham Bank, Gordon said he lets people know what is being monitored and managed, such as corporate email, versus things that are not, such as text messages.

"We don't want to get to the point of being Big Brotherish," he said. "We have a BYOD policy that's reasonably clear."

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