A recent CareerBuilder survey found that 24 percent of employees are using their smartphones for gaming while at work. This number is sure to be on the rise with the release of the Pokémon Go game. According to recent reports, Pokémon Go has broken all sorts of downloading records and is currently topping the charts of the most downloaded apps. It stands to reason that a good number of the users are playing the game at work. In fact, a Forbes poll recently reported that 69 percent of Pokémon Go users are playing the game during working hours, with one-third of the 66,159 respondents saying that they spent more than one hour playing Pokémon Go at work.

In case you are one of the few who don’t know, Pokémon Go is a free “augmented reality” game that displays various characters, called “Pokémon,” in a player’s current location (and/or his or her immediate surroundings, which the game maps out). As players encounter different characters while going about their daily activities, they can “catch” the characters—with an ultimate goal of capturing the original 151 Pokémon.

So what’s an employer to do when employees are catching Pokémon at work? If you are hoping to put a stop to the craze at work, first consider two possible benefits of the game. The Forbes poll found that workers are bonding with colleagues, bosses, and clients while ridding your office of Pokémon monsters. In addition, 80 percent of those who responded to the poll said that they have been exercising more due to using the app—thereby creating a healthier and more productive workplace. Employers could potentially use their employees’ interest in the app for team-building experiences or group exercise breaks to channel the game’s popularity into a morale booster.

Still, the drawbacks of employees’ gaming at work are obvious: lower productivity; increased distraction; and maybe even workplace injuries caused by players who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. Here are a few issues for employers to consider as they navigate the new landscape of popular gaming apps.

What Does Your Handbook Say About Internet Use?

Employers may want to use this time to revisit their Internet policies. Perhaps your workplace has a robust policy on Internet use, but nothing in that policy specifically addresses gaming at work. If your employee handbook was written at a time when solitaire was the biggest “gaming” threat to employee productivity, you may want to consider refreshing some provisions to take into account the most current technologies being used in (and in the case of Pokémon Go, interacting with) the workplace.

Employers may also want to consider blocking certain websites or expanding the number of website categories that are prohibited from being accessed from within the workplace (or even from home if employees are accessing shared drives through a virtual private network). Internet filtering can be used to stop employees from accessing inappropriate content, such as pornographic websites, or distractions like online games.

Do You Have a Smartphone Policy in Place?

It’s one thing to stop gaming on the Internet using work computers. It’s another thing to stop gaming on employees’ mobile devices. Since employees are using smartphones to play Pokémon Go, employers may want to consider implementing or revising their smartphone policies. Regardless of whether an employer is providing employees with smartphones for work-related purposes or permitting employees to use their own phones for work, employers will want to institute policies governing how employees may use those devices. In the case of employer-issued devices, the employer must also consider the risks involved when employees use their company-provided devices before or after working hours and outside the workplace. Employers with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs face other challenges, for example, attempting to balance their desire to monitor the contents of an employee’s device with the employee’s privacy rights and rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

Is It Time for a Reminder?

Employers may want to take the time now to educate employees on company smartphone and Internet policies. Whether a policy allows employees a moderate amount of personal or non-work-related Internet or smartphone use during work hours—or none at all—employers should ensure that employees have access to and are aware of the policies. Are your Internet and smartphone policies posted on your intranet, in break or lunch rooms, on community message boards, or all of the above? If you monitor employees’ Internet use, are the employees aware that they’re being monitored? If some Internet and smartphone use is prohibited, have the parameters of that use been made explicit in the policies? Though not essential, it may also help if employees are aware of the business justifications for regulating and monitoring their use of technology in the workplace. Even if all employees acknowledge their receipt of these policies when they are hired, employers may want to periodically remind employees of the policies via emails or during weekly meetings.

Whether employers use Pokémon Go to promote employee bonding or view all gaming in the workplace as a distraction to be prohibited, employers should acknowledge that their employees are playing—with one report stating that the game had approximately 25 million U.S. users. Careful planning could prevent the unwary employer from getting “knocked out” in a Pokémon battle.


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