The use of the internet has become so ubiquitous in our lives that few people can get by without checking their e-mails, reading online media reports or communicating on social networks. Many rightly conclude that, since the introduction of the internet, office workers have become more productive because they can multitask from the comfort of their desk.

However, psychologists and employers are now realising that addiction to the use of the internet may, in fact, be hurting productivity in some workplaces. Various terms have be coined to describe this disorder. One good term is ‘internet addiction disorder’ that has been defined as “excessive computer use that interferes with daily life”.

It would be wrong to conclude that this disorder only affects children and young people. Various studies have shown that the productivity rate of office workers can fall sharply in offices where access to the internet is easily available on desktop computers, tablets or smartphones. Multitasking, which many hail as a desirable skill in the modern office, “can cause distraction, the feeling of being overwhelmed, and gives rise to the need for an escape”. For most office workers, escape is in the form of using the internet for activities that are not work-related.

It was important that the Social Policy Minister highlighted the dangers of internet addiction disorder when speaking at a Sedqa seminar. There are various degrees of seriousness of this addiction. Most people have enough self-control to use the internet and all the facilities that it provides in a productive way by enabling them to cope with various tasks that previously had to be done by a number of people working in a team.

It is when habits like inappropriate internet pornography use, gaming, online social networking, blogging and excessive use of e-mail or internet shopping interfere with the normal life that one would expect in an office. It would be wrong to conclude that internet addiction in the workplace is only influenced by the easy access of the internet in so many platforms. It is also influenced by the general environment that an employer allows to exist.

Some employers have imposed monitoring of company computer use or limited internet usage. But many psychologists and human resources experts agree that “reducing the employees’ need for distractions and encouraging more productivity through a more hospitable work environment” are tactics that are likely to yield better results. Positive motivators almost always work better in the workplace than sanctions and prohibitions.

Unfortunately, no employer can rely solely on motivating staff in a positive way. There will be some workers who will become so addicted to the use of the internet that they will need therapy to overcome their problem. Cognitive-behavioural therapy can help addiction victims to change their perceptions regarding the internet, smartphone and computer use.

Often internet addiction victims also suffer from other conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression and it is proper therapy that can help them deal with these uncomfortable emotions.

The time spent at the workplace constitutes a significant part of the time that employees are exposed to the use of the internet. However, internet addiction is not confined to the workplace. Serious family-related problems connected with its excessive use also need to be addressed if people are to be rescued from such undesirable addictions.

Most people need to rediscover the joy of having various healthy interests and social activities in their lives besides the use of modern technology.

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