How to Deal with an Employee with a Tech Abuse Problem

In a previous post, I have discussed the effects of the fight or flight response and instant rewards that our gadgets trigger in us. The results are shortening of our attention spans, reduced concentration, and with that, reduction of our cognitive capabilities.

In another post, I have introduced a Pomodoro technique variant that would make your tasks more exciting than the apps and websites on your phone and laptop.

In both posts, I promised that I’ll write about how to deal with the effects of the technology on others, such as your colleagues, customers, family, and friends. In this post, I’ll discuss what can be done about an employee with tech abuse problem.

First of all, addressing the issue directly doesn’t add much value. Telling the employee “Look, you’re abusing tech for private purposes on company time and you should stop that.” won’t make much of a positive impact. Everybody knows that they shouldn’t do that, but they are doing it anyway. Pointing this fact out doesn’t do any good anyway.

Another thing that wouldn’t add much value is to impose company-wide rules about this. If you ban private tech use in your company, just because a single employee is abusing it, you are punishing the rest of the staff, who send a single text message a day about something really important. That way you create a lot of disgruntled employees who would otherwise be OK with their job.

If you create unnecessary friction with your employees, their performance will drop and at the end, you will lose as well. Company-wide rules about private tech use is difficult to enforce anyway, unless you want to install cameras in the toilet and hire someone to monitor those cameras.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether the employee is abusing tech or not. What matters is whether they perform or not. Coming up with dozens of policies only annoys employees. A few basic guiding principles is more than sufficient to manage a group of grown-up people. Of course, ethics is the ultimate principle. Another relevant principle is the 20-70-10 rule of Jack Welch.

The 20-70-10 Rule

The 20-70-10 rule involves rewarding the top 20% of your workforce, coaching the middle 70%, and firing the bottom 10% every year. A consequence of this rule is that you hire and train new employees every year, if you want to maintain or grow the size of your staff.

The reward and punishment principle of the 20-70-10 rule will already motivate your employee to increase their performance. On top of that, you will need to coach them to increase their performance. Coaching doesn’t mean to tell a person what to do and what not to do. It is a conversation between two parties to find out how their performance can be increased.

Asking questions like “What can we do to increase your performance? What can you do to increase your performance? What keeps you from performing?” one by one, and letting them come up with the answers is much better than telling them “we believe you underperform because of your tech abuse.”

Why is that? Because humans have this thing called ego and they want to be autonomous. They want to come up with their own solutions and they want to be in control. That’s the best way to motivate them and to make them perform at higher levels. By letting the employee find their own answers, you are actually achieving a much higher motivation than telling them what to do, which at the end has little to none impact other than causing friction and annoying them.

If your employee still doesn’t get it, you can provide resources about the impact of tech abuse in the personal development program of your company. If this still doesn’t help and they insist in staying in the bottom 10%, you can’t afford to keep that employee in your workforce or at least, in their current position. Keeping the underperformers will not only hurt your business, it will also demotivate the rest of your staff and bring them down too.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.