The Shape of Workbreaks to Come: Reframing Cyberslacking With Bossware and Artificial Intelligence

The Shape of Workbreaks to Come: Reframing Cyberslacking With Bossware and Artificial Intelligence

Jo Ann Oravec
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/JOEUC.329596
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For employees, work involves taking breaks as well as engaging in specific required duties, and sometimes that break taking is construed as “cyberslacking” by employers. After historical treatments of cyberslacking concepts, this article analyzes ways that artificial intelligence (AI) methodologies and the “bossware” platform genre are aiding management to counter the cyberslacking phenomena directly exhibited by employees or projected from previous activities and profiles. It contrasts straightforward “policing” methods that aim toward the identification of cyberslacking instances for selective punishment through surveillance, with “predictive cyberslacking” approaches that profile certain trends and patterns in employee behavior. Such identified inclinations can be used to engage or nudge workers into specific, individualized patterns of work and approved recreational or developmental activity. A medicalization-style approach is often used in bossware to entice employees toward particular mental health-themed activities (including mindfulness and meditation activities).
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Working for an employer involves more than just the immediate focus on assigned duties. It also includes managing distractions and taking breaks, the timing and content of which are sometimes construed as inappropriate by managers. This article uses software platform mechanics analyses to examine the emerging genre of AI-enabled “bossware,” aiming to fill a critical theoretical gap found in bossware and cyberslacking literature. The article’s contributions include the development of a theoretical framework that articulates how bossware is involved in curbing cyberslacking through policing-style or through predictive-style approaches, the latter often involving some aspect of medicalization. The paper begins with a critical examination of managerial cyberslacking mitigation approaches for the past several decades. It continues with a theoretical analysis of policing-style cyberslacking mitigation, contrasting it with predictive approaches. The next section provides the results of a study of emerging AI-enabled bossware medicalization methods based on platform mechanics analyses, followed by a section that characterizes the role of coachbots and related AI tools in cyberslacking mitigation. The final section before the conclusion reviews the specific practical and managerial significance of this research.

“Cyberslacking” (or “cyberloafing”) is “typically defined as the use of Internet and mobile technology during work hours for personal purposes” (Vitak, Crouse, & LaRose, 2011). It can include such behaviors as unapproved technology-supported break taking, multitasking, and recreation, as well as forms of procrastination that are related to online distractions (Aalbers et al., 2022; Dewe & Cooper, 2017; Oravec, 2002). Other labels relating to cyberslacking have been coined. For example, Kim and Byrne (2011) identify the following terms: personal web usage (PWU), non-work-related computing (NWRC), problematic Internet use (PIU), and Internet addiction disorder (IAD). Haag and Eckhardt (2015) use the phrase “shadow IT usage” (2015, p. 241), and Martin et al., (2010) and Kiho (2018) write of “time banditry,” with some unauthorized breaks constituting a kind of theft against the organization involved. In the advent of expanded home and remote work (related to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic), cyberslacking took on expanded dimensions beyond recreational activities, involving the employee’s responses to pressing utilitarian distractions such as package deliveries and children’s activities (Hoppe, 2022).

Bossware platforms incorporate various surveillance tools such as keystroke, webcam, social media, and email monitoring; detractors sometimes label the systems as “tattleware” (Cappelli, 2020). Bossware systems also increasingly include invasive employee data collection vehicles such as wearables and EEG (Ackerman & Strickland, 2022; Oravec, 2020), which facilitate the capture of intimate employee medical data. As outlined in this article, some emerging bossware systems attempt to soften the image of online managerial surveillance by involving wellness and recreation themes to “curb” cyberslacking while appearing to provide mental health support for the alleged cyberslacker (Hensel & Kacprzak, 2021, p. 219).

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