Is the mobile/cellular phone eroding office productivity

With the nearly ubiquitous use of mobile/cellular phones in most countries, there is a growing concern about its impact on workplace productivity.

Though the serious newsreaders among us might overlook the “Pudding & Souse” section in the Barbados Nation newspaper, on 10 January it carried an interesting segment, which we included in this week’s ICT/tech news roundup. Essentially, the piece highlighted a situation in Barbados where an unidentified hotel was reportedly now mandating that its employees hand over their mobile/cellular phones to hotel security before beginning work (Source: NationNews). As expected, this new measure was not going over well with the staff, and questions were being asked as to whether it infringed on workers’ rights.

In today’s world, many of us see our mobile/cellular phone as an extension of ourselves. Frequently, it is never more than an arms length away, and we feel naked and vulnerable when it is not in our physical possession. Moreover, we have conditioned ourselves to – almost immediately – react and respond to its rings, buzzes and alerts, thereby giving it top priority over many of the other things that deserve our attention. It may therefore not come as a surprise that increasingly, mobile/cellular phones are also being viewed as distraction.

A driving distraction

Over the past several years, there has been a growing concern about the extent to which mobile/cellular phones distract drivers on the road, and the accidents that can result. According to the World Health Organization,

Using mobile phones can cause drivers to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the steering wheel, and their minds off the road and the surrounding situation….

Studies suggest that drivers using a mobile phone are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash than when a driver does not use a phone…

In order to better manage the devastating effects of driving whilst using a mobile/cellular device, many countries, including a few in the Caribbean, have introduced laws prohibiting its use under that circumstance. However, it is still sobering to note that in a country such as a the United Kingdom that has made it illegal the use of hand-held phones or similar devices whilst driving, it has been projected that by 2015, deaths due to mobile/cellular phone distraction will overtake drunk driving as the leading cause of road fatalities in that country (Source: Fleet News).

Eroding workplace productivity

In a considerably less devastating context, than the use of mobile/cellular phone whilst driving, there is a growing concern about the impact of those devices on workplace productivity. The frequent checking of phone, responding to incoming messages and alerts, all add up over the course of a day. According to a survey conducted by recruitment firm, CareerBuilders,

One in four workers (24 percent) admitted that, during a typical workday, they will spend at least one hour a day on personal calls, emails or texts.

Twenty-one percent estimated that they spend one hour or more during a typical workday visiting non-work related websites.

(Source: Daily Mail)

Although it might be argued that the loss of an hour during an 8-hour workday is not unreasonable, the bigger picture might be the extent to which we lose focus and momentum with the frequent breaks to check and respond to our phones. More importantly, the loss of attention increases the margin for error, and depending on the profession, to potentially devastating consequences.

What are employers to do?

To varying degrees, employers benefit from their employees having a personal communication device, such as a mobile/cellular phone, for example to update them on a unforeseen but important developments, and there would be some expectation of use during working hours. Having said this, the difficulty occurs when we, ourselves, are unwilling to regulate our use, cognisant of how distracting and rude the continual checking and responding to our mobile/cellular phones can be.

It could thus be argued that increasingly, employers are being forced to introduce measures –such as that which the Pudding & Souse article reported – when we are not prepared to exercise more prudent behaviour on our own.


Image credit:  Matt Gibson (flickr)


1 Comment

  • A tough call!

    As has been mentioned, this will largely depend on the nature of work. But I would add that much of office-related work today in fact becomes more convenient with the added services of a mobile phone.

    Meeting appointments, reviewing documents, checking an old email ( some contents of which may be a point of discussion or would aid the discussion ) within a meeting, etc are examples where a mobile phone could be handy when you are not at your desk.

    I am sure many in business leadership are mindful of this. Therefore, in many instances, as the case in the article, such ruthless internal policy could well be because staff had been reckless or misusing the facilities.

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