Pokemon Go: why you need a WHS game plan


Pokemon Go: why you need a WHS game plan

The phenomenal rise of Pokeman Go continues unabated, with many employees transfixed and enthralled by the little creatures. But does the game pose health and safety risks for employees?

In the past few weeks, some employers may have noticed employees wandering around the workplace or regularly heading outside with their eyes fixed firmly on their smartphones. The cause of this behaviour is most likely the new Pokemon Go app released this month, which has spread very rapidly.

At the risk of assigning the role of “fun police” to the HR function once again, there are some employment-related issues that HR and managers may need to be wary of and take some precautions. But at the same time, the game app provides some opportunities for employees to team-build and have some fun at work, so those opportunities should be exploited as well.

What is Pokemon Go?

Pokémon Go is a mobile game released as an app for iOS and Android. Just like the original Pokemon series, the aim of the game is to capture, battle and train creatures called Pokemon. However, Pokemon Go differentiates itself from past gaming efforts of the franchise by using your phone's GPS and camera in gameplay.

As you play, creatures appear on the device's screen as being nestled in the real world environment. By doing this, it draws together the real world and the world of the game. The game has quickly became one of the most used smart device apps after launching, beating apps such as Tinder and Facebook.

There have been reports of some medical professionals praising the game for potentially improving the mental and physical health of players, for example, by encouraging them to move around and exercise to find Pokemon instead of sitting indoors behind a computer or smartphone screen.

However, there have been warnings that playing the game has the capacity to cause accidents (by not paying attention to other people or hazards) and to become a public nuisance at some locations. The game itself warns players to “remember to be alert at all times” and “stay aware of your surroundings” when you first begin play, although not everyone heeds this warning.

Last weekend, police were called to the Sydney suburb of Rhodes to deal with a mass gathering of Pokemon players that had led to arguments, traffic problems and disturbance to residents, some of whom retaliated.

What workplace issues can arise?

In a work context, playing Pokemon Go has the potential to contribute to the following problems:
  • Distraction from focusing on performing work tasks, resulting in reduced productivity
  • Safety risks due to employees not looking where they are going while looking at their smartphones to locate and battle Pokemon creatures. Note that employees who injure themselves while travelling to or from work are covered for workers compensation. There have also been some reports of Pokemon players being lured to locations by criminals who have then assaulted or robbed them.
  • Potential for important and confidential business data stored on smartphones used for work purposes to be corrupted by the installation of risky external apps. Already there have been some reports of hacking into Pokemon games.
  • Potential damage to an organisation’s image if Pokemon players who are in public places misbehave and can be identified as employees of the organisation.

Are separate Pokemon policies required?

Organisations are required, either by law or the need to follow good practice, to have policies that cover each of the following:
  • Performance review and management procedures in cases where job performance falls below requirements
  • Workplace health and safety policies and practices which include statutory duties of care applying to both employers and employees
  • Policies on the use of mobile communication devices at work, as well as security precautions when sensitive work-related data is installed on devices owned by employees or employers and also used by employees for non-work purposes
  • Policies on outside-work conduct that can be construed as employment-related or that could be identified with the organisation and reflect badly on its image and reputation. This is admittedly a “grey area” in case law, with most cases being determined on their individual circumstances. A possible example, however, is where a team of employees is taking part in a Pokemon Go competition outside work and could clearly be identified as employees of the organisation when misconduct occurred.
If the above policies exist and employees are aware of them and understand them, it should not be necessary to prepare separate “Pokemon at work” policies. However, in much the same way as dealing with major events such as the Olympic Games, the extreme popularity of Pokemon provides an opportunity to proactively remind employees that the policies exist and that they remain bound by them. The reminder can be justified by references to the popularity of Pokemon and any examples of workplace problems it has already caused.

 For example, refer to the policy on personal use of mobile communication devices and point out that playing Pokemon falls within the scope of its rules. The rules may be that employees may not download any non-business apps, or that any that are downloaded do not place the security of any business data on the device at risk.

To summarise, the important things here are to make employees aware of the rules and to apply those rules consistently.

Now for the good news

The above comments may suggest that HR and managers need to be more vigilant than usual with supervision. But a balance is required; HR will not benefit from employees labelling it “the fun police”.

Pokemon Go may prove to be a short-term fad, but it may also provide opportunities for team building and to have some fun at the workplace, and that should be encouraged. For example, Pokemon-catching competitions between work teams could be arranged.

There is plenty of evidence that if employees’ enthusiasm for outside-work events can be catered for, their discretionary effort and therefore engagement will increase when they are at work.

Some commentators have suggested Pokemon Go is a good thing for its players from a health and wellbeing perspective. It requires them to become physically active instead of remaining indoors behind a computer or smartphone screen. It also provides opportunities to use some cognitive skills as well as to socialise with a diverse range of other people.

Further, it may help employees to develop their digital skills, which may be helpful for their jobs and careers. All of this reinforces the point that physical exercise is more likely to occur when it involves having fun and social interaction.

Game-playing is already gaining popularity as a technique used by HR practitioners, particularly in the areas of recruitment/selection, training and learning/development. It is feasible that some of the new technology used in Pokemon Go could find its way into those HR activities.

If the workplace is located near a Pokestop, or itself becomes a Pokestop, that may be a benefit in terms of attracting visitors and customers. Organisations can pay to have their location listed as a Pokestop.

The challenge, therefore, is to try to embrace the popularity of Pokemon Go, but in ways that do not disrupt the workplace and productivity.
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