To say that the Pokemon Go craze has taken the world by storm may be an understatement. Reportedly the app broke a record for downloads in its first week of release on Apple’s App Store. It also quickly reached the top spot for free apps in the Google Play store.
Launched on July 6, the app has sent millions of game players into parks and all manner of other public places across the country as enthusiasts try to catch the 142 different Pokemon characters available in the United States. People who perhaps collected Pokemon trading cards and played on the now quaintly old-fashioned GameBoy devices in the 1990s are now reveling in 21st-century-style fun.
But is it harmless fun, or is it a problem in the workplace? Among employer worries: potential liability if distracted players wander into hazardous areas of facilities, cyber security vulnerabilities linked to the app, and, of course, a productivity hit if employees neglect their work out of enthusiasm for the game.
All those concerns are leading some employers away from the exclamation “Pokemon Go” and instead to the plea, “Pokemon Go Away!”
Should employers worry?
Employers concerned about downsides associated with providing employees with smartphones and other devices may be tempted to crack down on their use, but that may not be the best plan in all instances, according to Michael P. Maslanka, an attorney with FisherBroyles, LLP in Dallas and an assistant professor of law at the University of North Texas at Dallas.
Maslanka says employers should allow employees to use company-provided technology in a reasonable way. For example, employees might quickly check their stocks, Facebook or Twitter accounts, or maybe quickly complete an Amazon order.
After all, “it is impossible to oversee that type of usage, and we can allow our employees to use reasonable judgment,” Maslanka says. “But this Pokemon thing is a whole different deal. It is an obsession. I see these people who do it, and they walk around like Night of the Living Dead, sort of a zombie apocalypse.”
Maslanka says employees probably don’t have time during work to play the game, but employers shouldn’t single out Pokemon Go players for discipline. For example, employees who extend their lunch breaks should be spoken to regardless of the reason.
Should employers lighten up?
Even though some employees may neglect their work, the game may present no more of a productivity threat than the many other distractions employers typically take in stride. “Pokemon Go is simply this summer’s March Madness,” Holly K. Jones, a legal editor for Business and Legal Resources’ HR and employment law publications, says. “It’s a fun trend that, sure, may be a minor source of distraction for employees during the height of the craze. But the same can be said for sports events, the coming Summer Olympics, the latest binge-worthy series on Netflix, Black Friday shopping, the election, etc.”
Jones says most employees are responsible during their downtime, whether that time is spent chatting with coworkers about chasing Pokemon or some other topic. “Plus, these distractions are touch points that bring your workers together and can build camaraderie and stronger working relationships,” she says.
Plus, Pokemon Go encourages players to interact with their surroundings, meaning players “may have to venture into the break room or company common area to pursue their prize (where a productive work conversation may accidentally break out),” Jones says.
And since the game requires players to walk cumulative distances in order to “hatch” new Pokemon, the game presents “a great way to get deskbound workers on their feet and moving around,” Jones says, adding that “creative employers could specifically incorporate this aspect of the game into a wellness initiative or company event,” maybe a “Pokemon Picnic” that any employee with a smartphone could participate in.
Fun or hazard?
But some employers not only aren’t ready to encourage the game, they’re trying to ban it from their premises. News outlets reported in mid-July that aircraft manufacturer Boeing emailed employees informing them that the game almost caused an accident and it was being removed from company-owned devices.
Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman was quoted on the Everett, Washington, Herald website as saying the company used the Pokemon Go phenomenon as an opportunity to remind employees of the company’s focus on safety.
“As we strive for zero injuries, we prohibit employees from walking and using mobile devices at the same time on Boeing property,” Bergman said. “This has been a safety standard since 2014. Doing so has contributed to improvements in eliminating distractions and reducing the risk for slips, trips, and falls.” He also said the company’s actions weren’t about any particular app.