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Thursday, 03 July 2008 09:08

USA: Stingy employers are kidding themselves

American workers are being forced to buy their own mobile phones, PDAs and laptops because their employers feel there’s an unmeasurable amount of personal benefit in the use of such electronic gadgets.

But employers who quibble over who buys what electronic devices for business use have the wrong idea and risk loss of productivity, says analyst.

In stark contrast with Australia where staff retention and flexible work practices are the recurring themes in the fight against skills shortage, employers seem more concerned with the financial bottom line in the US.

Bill Hughes, principal analyst with research firm In-Stat, uncovered the stingy trend while trying to forecast the business uptake of ultra mobile PCs in the American market. He found that while employers happily pay for pagers (87%), they hesitate to purchase laptops (only 59% have) and smart phones for their mobile workers (56% have). Most surprising of all, seven in 10 bosses (73%) have not purchased the mobiles phones their staff members use in their daily grind.

“Before I asked users about their preference about future devices, I wanted to understand what devices they own now, what they carry regularly and who paid for them,” says Hughes.

“My perspective is that there is a staring contest going on between companies and their employees to see who will blink first and buy the device that will make them more productive.”

Drawing from a sample of 1759 people in various industries, he also found workers are the ones paying for GPS mapping devices (72%) and even calculators (81%). (Find out more on Page 2.)

“On one hand, you see firms wanting to retain employees, particularly the ones that are intelligence workers. At the same time, I see firms pinching pennies, often pushing expenses on to employees.

“Just recently, I saw a CIO at a major firm talking with some peers at a CIO conference about her idea that a firm should not pay for wireless broadband for workers that telecommute because they are saving commuting expenses,” he says.

Hugh says this attitude misses the point. Although it is true employees do benefit somewhat when working from home (less commuting, better time management, etc), the employer also gains in less office space, less office running expenses, happier and more productive employees.

“I have been working on some usage numbers and I have found that employees do much less business calling if they need to pay for it themselves. They make 2.5 hours less of business calls in a month compared with employees who have their phone bill paid by the employer.

“I say congratulations Mr Cheap business manager, you have saved about $30 a month, but lost 2.5hours of productivity.”

Australian salary packaging company SmartSalary which helps employees structure their pay to take advantage of work expenses and tax breaks, indicates the buy-your-own practice is less popular here than in the US.

“The number of employees packaging phones in their salaries has always been low here. Traditionally Australian employers have always provided phones for their workers,” says David Adler, chief marketing officer.

Some workers were packaging laptops last year, but new legislation introduced in May now requires only equipment used 'primarily for business purposes' be included. Adler thus expects the number of employees who pay for their own work laptops to stay low.

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