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Join The Moblog Mania

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I'm Hooked On IM

It's something that many do quietly on their office computers - chat using instant messaging (IM). And some are so hooked on it that work becomes secondary. One 25-year-old professional was so addicted to IM she quit her $2,500 job last month after her boss told her not to spend so much office time on it. "It's more like a habit to log on and be connected everyday," said Joanne (not her real name), whose job was in the creative industry.

Every morning, the first thing she would do when she stepped into her office was to sign on to MSN Messenger. Without it she would feel uneasy all day. While she claimed that texting with friends during office hours had not affected the quality of her work, she admitted that whenever her group of buddies were not online, she would feel very sad and not in the mood for work. She had an on-line network of more than 100 people, including friends, ex-classmates, colleagues and clients.

"I don't usually initiate chats, but when I do chat (usually with my friends), we could talk about anything under the sun," said Joanne, who describes herself as a good multi-tasker. It was not unusual for her to have four or five chat boxes flashing on her screen at any one time. And that was what made her boss unhappy. "On two different occasions my supervisor told me that my boss asked that I don't message so often. "I was upset because everyone in the office was using it too. And there was no company policy banning it," said Joanne.

"My boss told me that as my desk was near the entrance, visitors could see what was on my computer screen, and it was not very nice for them to see me chatting online. "If my boss had put a ban on IM officially, I wouldn't mind. I don't think I did anything wrong by engaging in IM at work. I still completed my work on time. I quit because I was unhappy with the double standards."

One that perhaps allows her to message her friends, she says. IM, which was started almost a decade ago, and used to be associated with teenagers, is now being used by some companies as a communication. But it is hard for bosses to check if employees are using it for personal chats on company time. A survey of 300 global organisations by IT research firm Meta Group shows that IM is already being used at work more than it is at home.

And 57 per cent of the respondents said they use IM at work for personal reasons. Marketing executive Andrew, 27, spends most of every morning on IM and begins real work only after lunch. She said: "Not all the time is spent on personal chats: Sometimes I chat with overseas clients. It's part of my networking effort. "I like to start my day with IM It's like a kind of warm-up before I start my day's work."

Said another IM addict, who wanted to be known only as Irene: "I have to be perpetually connected. Even when I'm on sick leave, I log on at home. "I'm lucky my company uses IM for internal communication. We have offices overseas and IM helps to cut down our communication charges. "It's less intimidating than phone calls and faster than e-mail and faxes. "I could be on the phone with a client and instant messaging my friends and overseas colleagues at the same time. With IM I've learned to multi-task."

The 30-year-old accountant also confessed that there have been times when she spent her whole day engaging in IM and without getting any real work done. "IM can be very addictive. You just let your fingers do the 'talking'. I rely heavily on it to keep in touch with my wide circle of friends," she said. `It is easier to pass time in the office when I'm on IM." It may have its uses as a communication tool, but some companies are banning IM.

Mr Jeffers company allow its employees to use IM on a case by case basis, he say, "I've sought permission from the IT department to install the software," he said. "I told them I needed to use it to communicate with overseas clients. It helps to cut down costs on long distance phone calls." Miss Jane is not sure of her company's policy on IM. She said:

"Whenever I downloaded the software, the IT guys would delete it from my computer the next day. "So I started making friends with the IT guys and now they leave my computer alone. "Although I spend long hours on IM, I do it discreetly." Administrative executive Kelly's boss banned IM when he noticed his staff spending too much time on it during office hours. "My boss told the IT engineers to block access to all (such) websites and links.

But my colleagues and I are constantly searching for new websites. "Now that I have found a new website, I no longer share the information with my colleagues. The more people know about the website, there's a higher chance that the IT guys will find out and block it." Miss Jane has managed to remain "connected" for the past three months. But a 28-year-old customer service officer, who gave her name only as Miss Lim, has not been so lucky.

"I never get to be connected for more than a day. The IT engineers in my company are very efficient. "They always manage to block whatever new (IM) access websites that I find," she said. "It's like a cat-and-mouse game. I have given up trying to find alternative ways to log on. I just stick to mass e-mailing my friends now."

Instant messaging (IM) can be addictive and tales one's focus from work easily, said psychiatrist Lionel. "Psychologically, it is very similar. to people who are addicted to surfing the Internet or playing computer games. "It's constantly interactive. If you have a chat box popping up every five to 10 minutes, it's no different from having someone. walls in to your office to chat. It'll be difficult for the person to concentrate on his or her work," explained Dr Lionel, who has been practising for 20 years.

If the person really has to use IM, Dr Lim's advice would be to use it only during a certain time of the day, like lunch time. "I've advised one of my patients who is easily distracted by incoming emails, to put an arrow pointing at his-desk. This is to remind-him to return to his actual task instead of attending to the emails, " said Dr Lionel. More companies are using IM to communicate with their overseas offices and clients, instead of relying on e-trail, faxes and phone calls.

"The cost of IM is very low, compared with making long-distance calls. "Communication is also faster and response is almost immediate," said one company. "There are bound to be people abusing it. Chatting and gossiping with their online friends during work hours. "But as long as they don't overdo it, we are fine. We trust our staff and give them the benefit of the doubt." Few companies have laid down proper guidelines on IM usage. Some simply ban its use for fear of virus attacks or staff abuse.

 

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