Smartphones have become more than communication tools. As phones have evolved to include email, internet browsing, and social media connectivity, consumers have begun increasing their screen time each day. These devices have gone beyond being a way to make phone calls to becoming a lifeline for most people.
As The Washington Post pointed out, the modern smartphone is a way for people to protect themselves, allowing people something to do. But mobile devices too often take priority over the people in the room with someone, which is problem enough when it happens in social settings. In business meetings, it can be disruptive and insubordinate. In a world that seems to be increasingly tech-addicted, how do bosses handle employees who can’t seem to go five seconds without texting, tweeting, or checking email? Here are some things leaders can do to deal with distracted workers in the office.
As restrictive as it can be, employers need to set boundaries when it comes to tech use in the workplace. An across-the-board ban against personal cell phone use in the workplace isn’t reasonable in today’s environment. But it’s perfectly reasonable to ask phones to be turned off in meetings, especially if they’re with clients.
The problem comes in when employees are checking work email in meetings. Important work emails could be missed during a no-phones-allowed staff meeting, yet it’s often impossible to differentiate between company-related interactions and personal.
Address the Problem
As with any personal technology use in the workplace, it’s often easier to address the real problem than the symptoms of that problem. In other words, if someone wastes an untold amount of time texting throughout the day, he’s likely not getting his work done. If he is, it might be time to determine whether he has enough to do. A co-worker may be overloaded with work that could be shifted over to a smartphone-addicted colleague, solving two issues at once.
If an employee’s work performance is suffering as a result of his device use, begin documenting missed deadlines or failure to meet standards. Use this documentation to discuss these standards with the employee and state what he needs to do to improve. In some cases once an employee realizes his job is at stake, he’ll spend less time on the phone and more time working.
While it may sound extreme, technology addiction is such a problem there is now a name for it: nomophobia. Instead of taking your employees’ vices away, consider offering help. You don’t have to send them off to rehab or enter them in a 12-step program. Instead, bring in an expert to speak to employees about how they can break their smartphone addictions and get more done in a day.
If a workshop isn’t helpful and disciplining employees for poor performance isn’t successful, it’s likely time to directly address the problem. As long as your discipline is consistent, without showing favoritism, you may reduce workers’ disruptive smartphone use and have a more productive, collaborative workplace.