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"The E-Hermit": A Critical Perspective

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Advanced technology has revolutionized the way companies conduct business internally as well as externally. E-mail and the Internet are ideal tools for sharing information faster and more efficiently. The computer has become a machine with an all-encompassing capacity to absorb and lock users into a world of their own with little face to face contact with other human beings. The creation of the Internet has developed a new context for human communication. However, the importance of human interpersonal communication cannot be neglected. Unfortunately, for such a vital and essential human skill, communication is largely relegated to the back burner, in favor of innovative high-tech communication.

The development of the secluded co-worker (the E-Hermit) results from a corporate culture that cultivates a segregated environment by inadequate leaders who are oblivious to a workforce that extensively use and potential abuse email and the Internet. The development of communication deficiencies will inevitably arise, causing fragmentation throughout the organization resulting in an overall disaffected workforce. Excessive Internet use leads to depression, isolation and detachment which affects the individual's psychological well-being and leads to inefficiency in the office and disruption within the home (Kraut1998).

Some remedies include, creating e-mail policies and guidelines, encouraging face-to-face communication and incorporating a relation-oriented style of management. Until management remembrance the value of human communication, companies will continue to experience poor productivity due this new trend of employee and an overall disconnected workforce.

Increasingly competitive environments have made it possible for business savvy organizations to ignore the value of human communication by incorporating computer mediated communication. Companies are constantly investing in new technology and communication infrastructures to cut costs and increase profits. However, companies should address the more important issue of developing the company's culture of shared values that can facilitate the integration of such technologies along with human communication. Investment in advanced technologies may not necessarily result in improved communication by, and between, the employees.

For instance, some companies are facilitating their business meetings by way of electronic meeting software (EMS). EMS's organize, record, analyze, and ranks a participants idea without attaching names to the submission. Such anonymity is thought to encourage employees to share opinions candidly without fear of retribution from supervisors

(Bovee'2003).

On the surface, it may appear that this type of technology would promote encouraged participation by stimulating candor and debate. EMS software is believed to allow individuals to be free in thought which will lead to creative ideas and shared decision making (Bovee'2003). However, the underlying problem is that there is a lack of human interaction which is necessary for working with and through other people effectively. Those who do not have proper face-to-face communication skills lack in the ability to motivate, facilitate, coordinate, lead or build self-confidence. Effective social skills are essential for resolving organizational problems. The replacement of human communication in the work place can have and adverse effect on work performance, morale, and overall productivity.

Inadequate leadership can also be a significant factor in employee dissatisfaction. Lack of effective communication from managers can lead to a lack of mutual trust between co-workers. As a result, withdrawal and feelings of isolation may occur. Such behavior may encourage excessive use and even abuse of e-mail and the Internet. Management has a responsibility to the organization and its employees to ensure group cohesiveness and prevent the development of E-hermit behavior by using participative leadership strategies to establish effective and cooperative relationships throughout the workforce (Yukl 2002).

Employers and employees alike have the responsibility as professionals to discourage seclusion and anti-social behavior. Executives, like managers in any sophisticated company today, know that employees use the Internet as routinely as they use the telephone. The Internet is an indispensable tool, a rich source of business intelligence and a communications channel of unparalleled power. However, excessive use of the Internet while on the job poses the problem of social isolation as well as legal liability issues which may also play a role in decreased employee productivity.

Management roles are extremely important in deterring the characteristics associated with E-hermit behavior. Managers should take a collective interest in the lives of the people who work for them. The experience of active involvement can result in the development of improved interpersonal skills and confidence by the participating member. Good communication skills are especially important when group tasks require members to collaborate, share information, and other resources to achieve a common goal. Group cohesiveness establishes an atmosphere of belonging. Therefore, if leadership is inadequate, the chain of organizational communication also becomes inadequate, which leaves an open door for inefficiency and poor morale, isolation and a disaffected workforce(Yukl 2002)..

On a daily average, people have to sort through at least 20-30 e-mails (maybe more) prior to starting their usual business day. As the volume of an individual's email increases, people have to resort to triage in disposing of their email to keep their in-basket from growing into a pile of unwanted frustration. Spending time ciphering through inconsequential emails is a basis for establishing unproductive activities on the computer as a norm. A European-based survey from Websene found that the average amount of time spent surfing non work-related sites was three hours and six minutes per week, more than 35 minutes per working day. The survey also found that 47% of employees admitted to spending between 10 minutes and to an hour each day surfing non work-related sites, and 24% spent more than an hour a day (Websene 2004).

According to the Websense survey, more than three quarters of respondents felt the Internet could become addictive for some people. Surprisingly, the survey found that 66% did not believe Internet misuse at work decreases productivity, and only 29% of them were concerned that their co-workers were accessing non work-related sites during work hours; the survey suggests

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