The New Smoke Break
We use these tools daily to network, close deals and communicate with others—but is this integration of technology jeopardizing focus and productivity in the workplace?
For many of us, the line has been blurred with regard to work/ life balance. We talk to clients on the phone during family dinner and check emails on vacation, so it is natural to do personal business while at work, as well.
Companies are increasingly looking into cell phone policies that allow employees to have a connection to family and friends, while still providing the employer with the confidence that quality time is being dedicated to the job.
Kristina Dietrick of Creative Business Solutions says boundaries at work should be apparent to the employee and consistently enforced. A well-planned cell phone and social media policy should be a part of a company’s basic introduction to all employees or prospective employees.
“You’ve got to have policies that you share with your staff,” Dietrick said. “It has to be a lawful policy with lawful language without taking away the rights of employees.”
A recent TK Business Magazine survey of 100 employers and 198 employees revealed differing views about social media and cell phone use in the workplace. Eighty-four percent of employee respondents said their personal cell phone use at work either has no impact or has a positive impact on productivity. However, 57 percent of employer responses said that personal cell phone use at work has a negative impact on production. Similarly, 80 percent of the employee respondents felt that social media use has either no impact or has a positive impact on productivity, while 76.5 percent of employers said social media use negatively impacts production at work.
“Employees checking messages or texts takes time from usual duties and are distracted,” commented one employer respondent. “However, banning the use of cell phones just leads to employees sneaking time away.”
Dietrick said personal calls at work used to only be allowed in emergency situations.
“I remember a world without cell phones, and I know that 99 percent of what is happening in the world is not an emergency,” Dietrick said.
However, in today’s world of social media, many employees actively use social media as a work tool. Alissa Menke, with jones huyett Partners, said a social media policy should still be in place for employees that use social media as a part of their job.
“Our position at jhP is to encourage the use of social media, but rules still need to be in place,” Menke said. “If you don’t agree to abide by and follow our online code of conduct, then you can’t do anything in terms of jhP content. In the digital world, no one will know that you work here.”
And just because employees sign a code of conduct agreement, it doesn't mean they can be on social media all day long.
“If you’re posting too many times during the day, we see it, our clients see it, and if it’s not okay, we’ll have a conversation,” Menke said.
INTERNET ADDICTION Internet addiction may be another real possibility that many employees face. According to the Pew 2015 Smartphone Use Report, 46 percent of adults say they cannot be without their smartphone.
Just like any other addiction, social media can negatively affect a person’s life both at work and at home.
“Addiction is any behavior that causes negative consequences in your life and you continue to engage in it, despite the negative consequences,” said Dana Vernon, Prevention and Recovery Services Addictions Counselor, LMAC.
According to a 2012 Forbes article titled, The New Mental Health Disorder Internet Addiction, “research has shown that people with Internet addiction have demonstrable changes in their brains—both in the connections between cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control, and emotion processing. Most intriguing is the fact that some of these changes are what you see happening in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, heroine, special K, and other substances.”
In addition, people who are hooked on the Internet have changes in how the brain’s dopamine system operates.
The dings of cell phone texts and social media notifications often bring accompanying “feel-good” effects. These feel-good effects create the addiction and reinforce the need to connect.
This issue has become common as texts, notifications, updates, tweets and such are a part of our daily life and expectations. Individuals experience a basic fear of missing out on what is happening in the world, and the employer may be on the losing end of the battle for employees’ time and attention.
ATTENTION DISRUPTION Each ding or notification, no matter how small, feeds the addiction and brings a distraction that diverts attention. Attention that, according to a survey
by Fast Company Magazine, takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task. That can add up to a big chunk of time away from the employee’s duties.
Salary.com reports that 89 percent of respondents in a 2014 survey admitted that they wasted time at work every day. Another survey by CareerBuilder found that personal use of technology is the biggest reason for wasting time. Twenty- four percent of workers admitted they spend at least an hour a day on personal email, texts and personal calls.
However, completely banning cell phone and social media use at work might be a little unreasonable. Instead, employers should create a policy that minimizes interruptions and encourages productivity.
“What is appropriate and what is not appropriate is where you start,” Dietrick said. “Managing employees is similar to being a parent. Give them boundaries. Let them know the rules ahead of time, and refer back to the rule or the policy when an incident happens.”