Blackberry Burnout

February 12, 2008 9:09:18 PM PST
You may be holding your PDA or Blackberry right now, but some companies are now reversing the "available-all-the-time" trend.On Monday, some of Blackberry's 12 million customers had their electronic lifelines cut off due to a service problem. Now there's talk from some companies that people should tuck away the Blackberries Treos and Wordpads after the commute home. Some say that defeats the purpose of the technology, while other professionals say the sea of e-mails is causing a Blackberry burnout.

If you hear it in the middle of the night, there may be relief in sight.

"We should not be working around the clock just because we have Blackberries," said Ahmed Abdelaziz, Omarica Home Builders, Inc.

Abdelaziz runs a multimillion-dollar home building company in Oak Brook. But after 4 p.m., his calls go to voice mail and employee Blackberries get tucked away.

"When an employee goes to work to perform, gives 110 percent for eight hours, then goes home unwinds, enjoy family friends whatever, come back the next day feeling rested, relaxed, fresh and ready to go back to work," said Abdelaziz.

There's a Blackberry ban at Empower Public Relations. Employees are expected to use the gadgets when they're working out of the office, but the typing stops after 6 p.m. or on weekends.

"I have had people believe that this was a big business mistake, but from my perspective a well-rested employee is worth their weight in gold, and someone who is edgy, who has not had a break is not going to perform as well," said Sam Chapman, Empower.

Chapman says he implemented the rule after he was being bogged down by buzzing.

"I was getting phantom buzzes," he said.

[Phantom buzzes are a real concept used to describe a vibration some people think they feel, when in fact they never even received a phone call or e-mail at all.

"They are tuned to look for it. They are paying attention to it, and every so often there is just enough noise in the nervous system they say, 'that was it.' But it wasn't really there," said Michael Levine, professor of Psychology University of Illinois-Chicago.

Levine teaches sensation and perception at UIC. He demonstrated how neurons in your body are always being stimulated. Sometimes they're mistaken for real vibrations known as "phantom vibrations."

"We're making sense of this array of noise coming at us," said Levine.

So more Blackberry use equals more false alarms. Some doctors say there's also a greater chance of getting "Blackberry thumb," which is an injury or pain from repetitive pecking on small keys.

"I was obsessed with keeping the e-mails at zero," said Rick Ueno, Sheraton Chicago.

The general manager gave up his Blackberry altogether two years ago and offers a Blackberry lockup for guests.

"I am answering e-mails mid morning," said Diane Esparrago. Her boss also encouraged a Blackberry break, but she's not listening.

"He has told me to stop answering e-mails, and I told him, 'only if you stop sending me e-mails," she said.

And some critics say limitations defeat the purpose of the technology in a fast-paced, global economy.

The companies limiting their employee Blackberry and PDA use say they will still call employees if there is an emergency. While only a few companies have adopted official policies, there are several reports nationwide of corporate Americans making an effort to better manage Blackberry use in favor of more family time.

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