The take-up of smartphone game Pokemon Go has been so remarkable – and the experience of playing it so immersive – that employers may need to revisit their policies to prevent a drop in productivity, according to experts.
Though it has been available in the UK for just four days, the app – in which players use GPS signalling and augmented reality to search for and ‘catch’ characters has proven insanely popular, with servers crashing over the weekend due to the amount of people attempting to use the app.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing was forced to issue an email to its workforce banning play during working hours after the company discovered the game app had been installed on more than 100 work phones since its release. A member of staff also came close to injury while playing the game at work.
However, Tom Currie, a barista and bartender from New Zealand, showed the potential for the game to reach extremes when he became the first person to quit his job in favour of a full-time bid to ‘catch ‘em all’. The BBC reported that Currie had already caught 91 of the 151 Pokemon available in the game.
Hannah Robbins, partner in leading legal business DWF’s employment team, comments:
“From a legal perspective using the Pokemon Go app during work time, unless that is a specific role i.e. they’re a developer, is akin to doing anything else that you shouldn’t be instead of work, like surfing the net, sending personal emails, watching the cricket, or internet shopping. Whilst social media policies will not contain specific reference to this app (who could have envisaged the explosion in popularity?), employers are well within their rights to approach this as a misconduct issue if their workers are wasting work time on the app.
This becomes slightly more complicated when considering whether workers are allowed to use the app in work during non-working time, such as lunch breaks. Whilst more sedate activities like surfing the net or watching the cricket during a lunch hour may be easy for an employer to accommodate, having hordes of people wandering around the building searching for Pikachu may be more difficult to contain. This may have health and safety implications as well as disturb fellow employees or customers. Employers and HR teams can, therefore, remind workers that they shouldn’t cause disruption to others if they choose to use the app during clearly defined break periods and it would also be acceptable to limit workers to only using it outside of the building. No doubt we will see more novel games in the future and as gaming encroaches more upon our physical environment this raises many legal and HR issues.”
Some employers are taking a more light-hearted approach to prohibition. An image that went viral on Twitter this week showed an internal memo at an unnamed company, which read: “We are paying you to work, not chase fictional video-game characters with your cell phone all day. Save it for your break time, otherwise you’ll have plenty of time unemployed to catch ‘em all.”