Pervasive Technologies and Addiction: How Workaholics Construct Boundaries for Recovery in a Digital Era

Pervasive Technologies and Addiction: How Workaholics Construct Boundaries for Recovery in a Digital Era

Laura D. Russell (Denison University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2509-8.ch005
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Digital media have drastically changed occupational landscapes. Mobile technologies in particular enable employees to work anywhere at any time. Consequently, expectations for when and when not to work have become increasingly uncertain. This chapter focuses on how self-proclaimed workaholics of Workaholics Anonymous (WA) rely on social support. Through participant observation and thematic textual analysis, the author examines the symbolic interactions that shape members' recoveries. A grounded theory analysis of the data reveals how members reconstruct their work habits through introspective reflection, interpersonal dialogue, and communal sense-making. Drawing from a structuration perspective (Giddens, 1979), the author interprets how these findings can be explored in future research and applied by individuals facing personal and occupational pressures associated with work.
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Digital media enable employees to work anywhere at any time and thus enhance the flexibility of the workforce. Mobile technologies in particular serve both social and professional purposes in individuals’ lives. As a result, the once perceived boundaries between work and non-work time and space are blurred (Golden, Kirby & Jorgenson, 2006). Mobile devices are often found appealing to those who desire freedom for working in various settings, including home (Pauleen, Campbell, Harmer and Intezari, 2015). Such devices also enable access to personal and family communication during regular work hours. Hence, personal, family and work life interweave inseparably, presenting employees and institutions with a host of responsibilities for negotiating boundaries. As Golden (2013) stated, “…the very nature of ICTs [information communication technologies], with their ability to make the workplace virtually present in the home and the family virtually present in the workplace, suggests that they can play a significant role in the management of work-life interrelationships” (p. 119).

While modern technologies may play a vital role in how employees and their respective work organizations manage mutually desirable commitments, negotiating healthy boundaries proves to be a challenge. Mobile technology users in particular tend to give more time beyond their planned work hours to work-related emails, phone calls and texts (Derks & Bakker, 2014; Pauleen, et al. 2015). These recurring communications tempt many individuals to remain pre-occupied with their work in ways that may become destructive to their personal and social well-being (Turel, Serenko & Bontis, 2011). Without allowing adequate time to rest after the physiological and psychological stress work often demands, individuals’ bodies and minds may suffer consequences of being overloaded over time (Meijman & Mulder, 2009). When work for many employees is so readily accessible through technology people must seriously question how individuals negotiate time and space to recover fully from their occupational labor.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Workaholism: A compulsive dependency on work activity (both paid and unpaid) that interferes with other facets of human life.

Workaholics Anonymous: A non-profit organization in which persons involved utilize a 12-Step recovery program for work addiction.

Grounded theory: An inductive method of exploring manifest and latent observations in qualitative data to identify patterns suggestive of theoretical development.

Thematic Textual Analysis: A method of exploring textual data for recurring themes that indicate points of significance in qualitative research.

Fast Capitalism: A concept first named by sociologist, Ben Agger (1989) , that describes how digital technologies impact capitalist lifestyles through the collapse of time and space.

Structuration Theory: A social theory that human action and social structure exist through a recursive relationship; human action constitutes structure and, in turn, structure impacts how human actions are enacted.

Webs of Interlocution: A concept explaining how human beings are inherently interconnected and must coordinate their actions with others in their social surroundings.

Symbolic Interactionism: A theory exploring how individuals interact through the use of symbols, particularly but not limited to language, to create meaning.

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