Tips on mobile phone use in the workplace
Published 01 August 2023
Most of us would probably be lost without our mobile phone in hand but there is no doubt the device can be an unwelcome distraction - even at work.
Perhaps the longest daily period that many us will spend not tapping away, browsing or shopping on our phones is the time we spend at work.
It is said that on average, people spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones per day, and check their phones an average of 58 times each day.
Employers do have the right to ban and discourage the use of mobile phones in the workplace during working hours. In fact many do now prohibit the use of them in a place of work.
However, any opportunity during the working day to take a quick peek at social media, to like or comment on a post or to send some type of message, is unlikely to be missed by an employee.
Such use of personal mobiles during work time is not only a distraction, but it can also harm productivity, lead to a loss of focus and cause stress.
In extreme cases, depending on the nature of the job, it can be dangerous, life-threatening and even lead to fatal accidents.
Earlier this year a lorry driver was jailed for 12 years after he killed three people when he crashed his nine tonne HGV into three cars as he watched a seven-minute video on his phone[1 cited 1.8.23]
Mobile phones are intertwined with our lives, addictive and a magnet for our attention, which can present particular challenges for employers in all sectors.
It is a problem that is identified and recognised not only in the workplace, but also outside of it.
Recently a United Nations report called for a worldwide ban on smartphones in schools due to excessive use of the handsets[2 cited 1.8.23]
There have been previous reports of singers banning mobile phones at concerts. Last year a reported ban on mobile phones was announced before music legend Bob Dylan did his first UK tour in five years[3 cited 1.8.23]
And in the US, comedians including Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Hannibal Buress and Chris Rock popularised the concept of demanding fans relinquish their smartphones at live performances years ago to make everyone live more in the moment[4 cited 1.8.23]
With mobiles driving us to distraction, the challenge for employers is how do they get staff to put them down, and focus and concentrate on the job they should be doing.
Especially when every smartphone beep, buzz and glow emanating from the screen provides an often hard to resist temptation to have a quick look.
The struggle for employers is made worse because even where workers are fully aware they should not be using their phones at work, they can become adept at doing so secretly.
So, what can an employer do to prevent employees being distracted by their mobile phones at work?
An employer can stop employees from using mobile phones during working hours.
It has the right to limit or prohibit personal use during that time, as long as there is a clear and consistent policy that complies with relevant employment laws and regulations.
However, there may be some exceptions or circumstances where employees may need to use their mobiles for work-related purposes, personal emergencies or reasonable breaks.
In these cases, employers should adopt a flexible and fair approach that balances the needs of the business and the employee.
Introduce a mobile phone policy
Many employers now have a mobile phone use policy in place that covers the use of mobile phones in the workplace.
Depending on the nature of the business and its size, what is included in such a procedure can vary, but common elements can include:
- Clarity on personal use for making calls, texting or using social media while at work. Many employers do not object to personal use during breaks, while others will have a complete ban on such use. Any policy should make clear what is and is not acceptable.
- Phones are an essential business communication tool. If work-related use of a mobile is required, the policy should detail what is considered acceptable business use including calls, emails and access to work-related apps or information.
- The distraction caused by mobile phone use in certain job roles can be a safety concern. It can pose risks, especially in jobs that require operating heavy machinery or involve hazardous materials. The policy should address such concerns and make clear any dangerous situations in which use is banned.
- Confidentiality and security is important in all industries. Any policy should make clear the importance of protecting sensitive company information and intellectual property e.g. instructing employees not to take photos or record videos without proper authorisation.
- There can be unexpected situations in which contacting an employee via their mobile while at work is the only option. The policy can provide guidelines for emergency situations, allowing workers to use their phones to make or receive urgent personal calls if necessary.
- As with any other workplace policy the consequences of breaching it should be included. If an employee fails to adhere to guidelines the procedure can make them aware it will be dealt with appropriately. In serious cases an employer can fairly dismiss an employee for breaching a mobile phone use policy.
An employment tribunal found that a bus driver was fairly dismissed after he was seen holding his mobile phone while exiting a bus stand, in breach of the bus company’s very strict and clearly communicated mobile phone rules[5 cited 1.8.23]
- If the policy allows employees to use their personal phones for work purposes (also known as Bring Your Own Device), it should include guidelines on security measures, data protection and reimbursement for work-related expenses[6 cited 1.8.23].
A mobile phone use policy should be clear, applied fairly and communicated to all employees to ensure they are aware of it and understand it. Workers should be able to raise and concerns or queries in relation to the policy, and employers should address them.
There is no definitive way in which it is best to encourage employees put away their smartphones when they should be working, as different situations may require different approaches but some suggestions:
Make sure as an employer you clearly communicate expectations. Let employees know the policy on phone use during working hours, and why it is important to follow it. Explain how excessive use can affect productivity, performance and dynamics within a team, and address any issues promptly and consistently.
Restrict when and where mobiles can be used. Depending on the nature of your business and the type of work your employees do, you may consider limiting the use of mobiles to certain times (such as breaks or lunch) or certain areas (such as designated zones or outside the workplace). You may also ask your employees to keep their phones on silent mode, in a bag, drawer, or locker, or to step away from their workstations to make or receive calls.
Some employees may use their phones excessively because they have personal or family issues that require their attention. Allowing them to work remotely, adjust their hours, or take time off when needed may reduce their need to use their phones during work hours. It can also increase their motivation, loyalty and satisfaction.
Do not allow inappropriate or excessive use. If an employee’s phone use is clearly inappropriate e.g. browsing social media, playing games, or watching videos or excessive (such as making or receiving too many calls or texts), you should take appropriate action.
Concerns about the use of mobile phones in the workplace is likely to be an ongoing issue and developing and implementing an effective policy to address the matter, will certainly benefit both employers and employees.