Work-related smartphone dependency among young working adults in urban China : an examination of the dependency relations, antecedents, and consequences
Date of Issue2017
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
Using smartphones for day-to-day working practices is now common for employees working in many organizations and companies. This dissertation is among the first to apply Media System Dependency (MSD) theory to understand smartphone dependency within a working context. By targeting young working adults in mainland China, this dissertation aims to answer three questions: 1) what kinds of dependency relations that young Chinese workers develop with their smartphones at work; 2) what are the antecedents of these work-related smartphone dependency relations; and 3) what are the consequences of these work-related smartphone dependency relations. Two empirical studies were carried out to answer these research questions. Given limited research on smartphone dependency at work settings, an exploratory interview study (Study 1) was conducted during February to March 2015. The purpose of Study 1 is to closely understand Chinese workers’ smartphone dependency at work and develop a solid research framework in explicating its antecedents and consequences. Interviews with 32 young Chinese workers show that they were mainly dependent on smartphones to fulfil three types of goals at work, namely, understanding (e.g., being updated of work-related information), orientation (e.g., performing effective work-related actions), and communication (e.g., communicating work-related matters). As for the antecedents, three task attributes (i.e., task interdependence, task mobility, and time criticality), organizational norm, managerial support, and two psychological factors (i.e., smartphone self-efficacy and conscientiousness) were identified to affect their smartphone dependency at work. Moreover, respondents indicated that depending on smartphones at work could strengthen their job performance and workplace social capital. At the same time, it also triggered undesirable smartphone addiction symptoms. Based on the results of Study 1, a research model regarding the interrelationships of the antecedents and consequences of work-related smartphone dependency were developed. The purpose of Study 2 is test these interrelationships by using a survey data from 527 young employees in China. Findings from Study 2 show that young Chinese workers developed fairly strong dependency with their smartphones at work. Notably, communication dependency relation was the most intensive one, followed by understanding and orientation dependency relations. Organizational norm and managerial support were two strongest predictors of work-related smartphone dependency relations. Regarding the influence of task attributes, task interdependence was associated with understanding dependency and communication dependency, while time criticality was associated with understanding dependency. No significant connection was found between task mobility and all three dependency relations. In terms of individual factors, conscientiousness was positively associated with understanding dependency and orientation dependency, while smartphone self-efficacy was linked to communication dependency and orientation dependency. As for consequences, the findings indicate that different smartphone dependency relations were associated with different outcomes at work. In particular, orientation dependency was associated with employees’ job performance, while communication dependency was correlated with their workplace social capital. Interestingly, no association was found between communication dependency and smartphone addiction symptoms. Taken together, this dissertation is among the first to investigate smartphone dependency at work settings. Its application of the MSD theory provides a new theoretical approach to understand individual-smartphone dependency, as well as its antecedents and consequences. In the process, this dissertation also examines how the MSD theory, largely developed in traditional media environments, can be useful in understanding and explaining smartphone dependency in a specific working context, thereby extending and advancing the theoretical application. Practically, this dissertation helps the employers and companies to understand how and why their employees are dependent on smartphones at work, and what are the positive and negative consequences of such dependency, so as to develop effective management strategies.
Nanyang Technological University