Imagine, 1-2 years from now, that a new kind of employee has emerged in your place of work.

He’s seen as effective by executives and managers alike, and is famous for the speed at which he returns email.

In fact, the new email tracking software that the company has in place then, shows that he has the best average email response rate — he replies to email, on average, a mere “5.73 minutes after receipt.”

The numbers also show that he’s able to respond at all hours of the night, on weekends, when he’s on vacation or on holidays, and while he’s supposed to be sleeping.

He’s the kind of guy who regularly drops everything to help out an executive with any request they might have. He’s learned that success breeds success. As his reputation grows as the go-to guy, more executives call him out of the blue to get his help.

He’s known to carry his smartphone to the unlikeliest of places, some of which are “un-hygienic,” but hey… he works hard for his number one ranking.

He’s regularly held up as a model for others, and employees whose email response rate is much worse are often sent to him for coaching.

They all have the same complaint, however.

When they try to talk with him it’s hard to get his undivided attention.

He interrupts their coaching sessions by checking his email. As text messages come into his smartphone he responds to them immediately, and there’s not a phone call that can ever roll over to his voicemail. He answers lots of messages in the moment, or close to it, and that by itself generates lots of new messages from the recipients.

They are never able to get any good advice from the guy in the two minutes they have with him between interruptions. In fact, it seems as if he’s always looking for something more exciting than the conversation or meeting he’s in, making people wonder if he’d not alternately suffering and benefiting from ADD.

He’s actually a moron. But he’s a quite a productive one.

It all started when his boss gave him his first Blackberry, after observing that he was piss poor at managing his own time. He would sit down for hours waiting for something to do, but he didn’t have the ability to actually start anything useful on his own. Nor could he take on projects that were too long, or complex.

What he could do quite well, however, was to respond to email, so giving him a smartphone seemed to be a good decision, especially when he replied to his first midnight email within minutes one Sunday morning, quite unnecessarily… This only confirmed to some that he wasn’t that smart.

What his boss didn’t anticipate was that the no-too-smart employee would be held up as a role model, while demonstrating behaviours that used to be seen by most as counter-productive. In the rush for quick results, the company became one that punished its good workers and rewarded the morons.

If this isn’t happening in your company, be warned, because the most recent research indicates that it’s coming faster than the speed of a hot email.

A recent article in the New York Times on recent research by Intercall, noted that 30% of workers in the U.S. who use technology to do their jobs feel the need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends, breaks and holidays. One in two workers also say that taking time off is becoming increasingly challenging.

Today, 25% of workers think that their supervisors expect them to be online and connected to work after hours and that their job security depends on this. Almost 15% of respondents say that they plan to attend at least one work-related call or web meeting during their next vacation and 17% say that it is frowned upon if they don’t connect to work during their vacations.

I’d like to make a bet.

Without the active intervention of management in your company, these numbers are only going to get worse. They are fuelled by fears and anxieties that have increased during this recession, and technology has allowed bad habits to spread across companies like wildfire.

Turning the ship around is no easy task.

After all, where does the accountability for “worker productivity” lie in most companies? Is it with line managers? The CEO? The CFO? Someone in Human Resources?

It’s one of those issues that’s likely to continue to fall through the cracks, and anyone who does try to change it is faced with the fact that they’ll need the consensus of a number of executives and managers in order to turn things around. In other words, there will have to be public, broad agreement to not send or reply to emails, IM’s and text messages after 12am and before 6am.

Until that happens, more workers will feel like they need to connect to work 24/7, and more managers will make employees feel as if they need to be online and connected after hours, and even more will believe that their job security relies on adopting behaviors modeled by the productive moron.

In the meantime, corporate productivity will continue to suffer as more employees are given smartphones, and bad habits become defacto operating standards.

Who in your company will stand up and say “we’ve ALL had enough, and we’re not going to take this anymore?”

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