Now that almost every working adult American has a cell phone – and most prefer to keep it with them at all times – employers are beginning to realize that they need to set a formal policy for cellphone use while on the job.
As useful and convenient as cellphones are – and the majority are smartphones – they can be distracting and pose both a health and safety and a security risk.
Employers often do not help matters. Often they expect their team to be immediately available, which makes it hard to tell employees they can’t use their cell phones at certain times or in certain settings at work. It's a bit hypocritical to make such demands and then tell employees they’re on their phones too much. All of us — from the top of the organization down — have gotten so used to a device in our hands that it gets admittedly difficult to put it down.
Cell Phone Use at Work and How it Affects Productivity
A survey conducted by staffing firm OfficeTeam found that employees spend about 56 minutes per day using their cell phones for personal business while at work. While managers surveyed assumed their employees were looking at social media or playing games, many employees said they were actually reading and responding to personal emails. In addition, 58 percent of workers reported using their cell phones to visit websites that were blocked or banned by their employer.
Regardless of how employees are using their cell phones at work, it’s a good idea for employers to have a policy regarding the matter, as excessive use can (and will) decrease productivity.
Creating a Cell Phone Use Policy
It’s unrealistic to expect employees to never use their cell phones at work. Most people will feel the need to keep their phones close in case of emergency — especially those with children or elderly parents. Having a cell phone use policy could help people understand what’s expected of them, but a no-tolerance policy will likely feel punitive and overbearing.
It’s important to find a balance that acknowledges the reality of cell phone use at work and considers the liabilities distractions can create, while making your wishes for limiting cell phone use known to all employees. This could mean cell phones are hidden from view during meetings unless necessary — like if a calendar needs to be consulted, if someone needs to refer to an email, or a question requires Google to be answered.
This is a more pressing matter if your company deals with proprietary or copywritten materials. You can’t have employees taking pictures or recording audio (or worse, video) when you’re discussing sensitive information because if it were to get out, your company could be vulnerable to lawsuits. For this reason, many employers have recorded device policies. If sensitive material is being discussed or displayed, cell phones are to be left outside of the room to make sure secrets cannot be stolen or accidentally leaked.
Cell Phones and Driving Safety
If your employees will be driving a company vehicle while on the clock they are likely to be tempted to use their cellphone, something which is in no way safe, especially if they use it to text. Therefore a ban on cell use while driving will help keep your employees, your property (the vehicle) and others on the road safer.
Here again though, employers sometimes add to the problems themselves, by expecting a fast response to messages, practically forcing the employee into risky behavior. It's important therefore that everyone – including supervisors – understands that calls and texts should not be responded to while driving.
The iPhone has a feature that allows users to set a standard message alerting callers and 'texters' that they are driving and will respond when it is safe to do so, and the phone can be set to automatically trigger this notification mode when it senses a vehicle is motion. Many Android phones also have a similar feature and for safety's sake, driving employees should be encouraged to use it.
Curbing Cell Phone Use at Work
Often employers don’t create a policy regarding cell phone use at work until they realize they have a problem, which can be weeks, months, or even years into a downward spiral of problems. Like it or not, it’s necessary to have a cell phone use policy at this point. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed, but it should incorporate the unique nature of your business (such as security or safety concerns).
There’s nothing wrong with laying out a policy telling your employees how you’d like them to use their cell phones during work hours. Perhaps limiting phone calls to emergency-only is a reasonable solution. You could ask employees to keep their phones in desk drawers on vibrate. If you’re in a setting that involves heavy interaction with the public (like retail or service), you could ask employees to keep their phones in their lockers.
Whatever policy you eventually implement, it needs to apply to everyone from the top down. If lower-level employees see their supervisors disobeying policy, they probably won’t be interested in following it themselves and will in fact become rather resentful about the whole thing in general. So, when formulating your new company cellphone policy ensure that it is one you will follow yourself.