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Smartphone theft could compromise more than your selfies

In an online survey, DeGroote researchers found 38 per cent of respondents use their mobile devices for both personal and work requirements.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Globe's roundup of research from business schools.

As mobile phones have grown increasingly more sophisticated, they have become a trove of information, storing everything from goofy selfies to sensitive banking information and access to employers' communications networks. In the event of theft or loss, the replacement cost of the phone could be the least of our worries.

The value of the intellectual property stored on the devices and the possible data breaches that could result could have severe consequences for individuals and employers alike, according to a study by researchers at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton.

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The researchers conducted an online survey of 339 participants in the United States. Almost 60 per cent of respondents reported using their mobile devices – cellphones, notebooks and smartphones – for personal needs; 38 per cent reported using them for both personal and work requirements; and 2 per cent said they use them just for work. A quarter of participants reported having lost their devices at least once. The study also showed that few participants took even simple precautionary measures to guard against loss of data, such as using password protection.

"Quite a lot of people don't do even this very simple thing," said Yufei Yuan, professor of information systems at DeGroote. Dr. Yuan co-wrote the study with Zhiling Tu, a PhD candidate, and Norm Archer, professor emeritus. The study was published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Mobile Communications.

A majority of survey respondents were unfamiliar with more advanced protection measures such as the use of "time bombing" to automatically erase data after a set number of unsuccessful log-in attempts, data encryption, or remote device wiping. The reason, says Dr. Yuan, is that most users don't get any training on how to protect their data when they purchase their phones.

It may be up to employers to step in and fill the breach. "As more and more mobile devices are used in the workplace, mobile device loss will become a very important security threat to organizations," the authors warn.

Many employees already use their private cellphones to download work files and to connect to their company's e-mail. Some organizations have started implementing policies regarding the use of cellphones but many others haven't caught up, Dr. Yuan says. "It could be very dangerous."

As for consumers, one simple way to recover a lost phone recommended by Dr. Yuan is to call the number. When he recently lost his phone he did just that. A trustworthy student answered it and returned the phone.

Workplace stress a result of more than just work

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A study assessing workplace stress concludes that one's family life, social network and personal characteristics are all important determinants of an individual's mental health. The study surveyed 1,954 workers at 63 Canadian companies from 2009 through 2012. The organizations included both large and small employers and participants included managers, supervisors, professionals, office workers and both skilled and unskilled labourers.

The results showed that factors such as having an abusive supervisor, conflicts with co-workers and a lack of job security were important workplace stressors that affected levels of psychological distress, depression and emotional exhaustion among employees. However, factors outside the workplace were also important contributing and mitigating factors.

Fewer symptoms of mental health were reported by those who lived with a partner, had children in the household and had strong social supports outside of work. The reverse was also true: Those with stressful marital and parental relationships within the household had higher levels of psychological distress and depression at work.

The results indicate that while work life is an important contributing factor to an individual's mental health, it is not the only factor, says Steve Harvey, management professor and dean of Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal. "The way we feel is impacted by a lot of things in our lives," he says.

Dr. Harvey was one of a group of researchers who conducted the study. The group also included Alain Marchand, professor at Université de Montréal's School of Industrial Relations.

That's an important message for those who study workplace stress because typical research in this field tends to focus only on factors that exist in the workplace, Dr. Harvey says. "If you study work stress or life stress, don't study it in isolation," he advises.

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The study was published in the February issue of the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal.

Gender equality is a strong predictor of Olympic success

Countries that strive to own the podium should focus their attention on ensuring gender equality. Or so suggests new research by Jennifer Berdahl, professor of leadership studies at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver.

Dr. Berdahl and her co-authors looked at the medal counts of male and female athletes from 121 countries at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. They compared the medal counts to each country's gender gap score – a measure of economic, political and educational equality among the sexes – as well as other factors such as gross domestic product, population size, geographic latitude and income inequality.

Nations with higher levels of gender equality had won more Olympic medals by female and male athletes. Next to gross domestic product, gender equality was the strongest predictor of Olympic success.

"Countries with greater equality of opportunity to excel based on either socioeconomic status or gender may have larger pools of talent from which their Olympic athletes emerge," the authors write. Whereas gender inequality is likely to hurt both women and men by encouraging stereotypes that limit their ability to reach their full potential.

The study is available online and will be published in the January of 2015 edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Rosanna Tamburri can reached at tamburrirosanna@gmail.com

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