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Jul 19, 2016

Pokemon GO fever is sweeping the nation — and increasingly, the world. It’s a craze that is prompting all sorts of incidents by the millions of players who, face buried in their smartphone, have walked off cliffs, driven into trees, and trespassed onto a nuclear power facility, not to mention the countless cases of run-ins with people and buildings.

Now the game is causing headaches for HR leaders and managers. It’s not just that employees are trying to catch a Dratini or a Squirtile while on company time, some have actually put themselves at risk. Philippe Weiss, lawyer and managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, said one client reported an employee had to be safely pulled away from a window when he leaned out too far to capture a rare Pokemon character.

There’s also the situation, as in the nuclear power plant trespass, of non-employees wandering onto company property and getting injured or worse.

But of most importance to managers is the decline in productivity as workers spend more and more time collecting characters. One unidentified employer, apparently beset by the epidemic, distributed a flier to employees declaring, “We are paying you to work, not chase fictional video characters…”

No one has yet measured the extent of lost productivity; the game is simply too new. Weiss, however, said his firm has had reports from clients that “morning tardies are up over 10% among certain groups of employees and that the length of employee absences for breaks and lunches are noticeably extending – all due to Pokemon GO play.”

It’s not just wasting time at work that is worrying HR. Employees who record their game-playing may be inadvertently capturing sensitive company data, and those using employer-provided smartphones may well be violating the use policy. In one incident, an employee who said he worked for a banking/IT firm was mistakenly believed to be taking pictures in the office, a violation of so strict a policy that violating it is a fireable offense. He managed to avoid termination by explaining the game and showing the HR and security chief how it is played.

A SHRM report on the phenomenon said some companies see a positive in having workers play Pokemon GO. “The strong social aspect of the game can’t be understated. It gets people talking, working together and sharing in something that is not only exploratory, but competitive,” one business manager told SHRM.

On the other hand, an employment lawyer warned that using the game in team building could backfire. “Will employers be held responsible if they try to team-build by visiting PokéStops, or going on a group hunt for Pikachu, and someone gets hurt? Very possible,” he said.

Weiss of SeyfarthShaw offered HR professionals guidance on how to handle the craze. In a press release he outlined five strategies to manage Pokemon at work:

  • Prioritize Performance over Pokemon:
    – Start watching your employees’ timeliness and attendance with greater attention than usual in the coming weeks. Follow-up on even small delays in work/task completion while the Pokeman GO craze is upon us.
    – Note any employees walking around with gazes fixed on their smartphone screens (and exhibiting an accompanying semi-spaced-out demeanor).
    – Train your managers to know when and how to safely tell employees: “Pokemon STOP!” (And train them not to set the wrong example, themselves, by playing Pokemon GO during work time).
  • Train on Pokemon GO Protocols: Give security people and managers simple scripts to use when they encounter any wandering/errant players. The key is to “Respectfully Reroute” players, quickly and safely.
  • Patrol Possible Player Pathways (especially if you operate any outdoor facilities): Regularly check all doors, gates and access ways to unauthorized areas to confirm that they are effectively secure. (And do not leave any hazards exposed. You don’t want distracted players falling into a floorboard gap followed by a 30 foot drop to the sub-basement.)
  • Use the Power of Your Policies: Remind everyone at work about your electronic device policy and ask that smart phones be turned off at all meetings. Don’t cede your power to the Pokemon.
  • Consider the Potential Poke-Payoff: On the plus side, if your store or business is near (or is itself) a Poke Stop or Pokemon Gym, you most likely have already seen increased foot traffic. Businesses can also purchase an in-game module called a “lure” to attract Pokemon (and thus, more players/potential customers) for a 1/2 hour period.  However, be ready for the possible resulting Poke-mayhem. If that happens, take steps to ensure that your own employees continue to focus on their work.