Just about everyone brings a cellphone everywhere they go, and the workplace is no exception. Nomophobia, or the fear of being separated from our phones, is a rampant and legitimate concern today. Our brains receive a hit of the feel-good chemical dopamine not only when we receive new information from our phones, but even in anticipation of receiving it. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance revealed that just anticipating new information gives us a high and can cause us to lose concentration and become error-prone.
If you manage a team of people, this information addresses a challenging and pervasive problem. Setting limits and expectations around personal cellphone use in the workplace is not always easy, but in most cases, it’s absolutely necessary. If there’s no policy in place, it’s hard to fault employees for misusing their phones on company time. While I’m certain you don’t want to ‘parent’ your employees and disrespect their ability to self-regulate their cellphone use, there are many critical performance factors to consider – from impacted outputs (reduced quality and quantity of work), to safety (cellphone use while operating machinery) and security (data breaches). Even the Ontario government is stepping in when it comes to the impact of cellphones, banning them outright in classrooms for anything non-educational. If experts believe that cellphones pose that much of a problem, should businesses follow the government’s lead? Does it seem hypocritical to you if you simultaneously expect employees to be available by phone during and after work hours, while also suggesting that they use their phones too much?
A balancing act
The experts at HR360 believe that creating a company cellphone policy is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, employees aren’t paid to socialize (which a cellphone policy should directly address). However, it shouldn’t be so restrictive that employees are cut off from their phones entirely, especially if they have personal commitments and family obligations. No manager wants to spend his or her time and energy babysitting and policing their employees’ phone use, so having a policy in place (no matter how restrictive or relaxed) is essential. To enact a successful policy, you should set clear expectations with as little ambiguity as possible.
To help companies create personal cellphone-use policies, recruitment software firm Betterteam has created examples of both short and detailed policies that you can adapt for your organization, as well as downloadable templates to get you started (betterteam.com/cell-phone-policy). What factors might impact your company’s own policy? They can include everything from company culture, to whether or not your workplace often has clients present, to the types of roles in the organization, to the level of security required for the work you do. For example, Betterteam’s short template reads as follows: “Cellphones should not be allowed to distract employees from business tasks. They should not be used for surfing the internet or gaming during work hours. Cellphones should never be used while driving, operating equipment, or in any situation where they can cause accidents.”
Many managers I’ve spoken to about this issue were frustrated that employees keep personal cellphones on their desks, which is a huge source of distraction. If this is an issue, it’s necessary to add a line in the policy specifying that cellphones should be put away and not kept on desks. Once the policy is established, ask employees to use common sense when dealing with outside-of-the-norm situations. However, if personal cellphone use is a persistent problem affecting an employee’s performance, or the performance of those around them, these situations should be dealt with quickly on a case-by-case basis.
No matter the length or limit of the policy, it’s definitely a good idea to have one in place. Ensuring that the rationale behind the policy is communicated is critical for total employee buy-in. However, expect some pushback, especially if your policy is strict or if it’s very different from your organization’s current cellphone culture. All members of the organization, including (and especially) upper management, must also adhere to the policy to create a sense of fairness and equality. Follow through on repercussions so that team members know how important it is for the policy – and the company – to succeed.