Bosses Attempt to Limit Smartphone Usage among Employees

The average person spends 2 hours and 25 minutes per day on their smartphone. Put another way, that amounts to about 2,617 daily interactions with their device in the form of taps, clicks and swipes. What’s more, a significant amount of the time people spend on their smartphone occurs when they’re at work. While these statistics might surprise some, they come as no shock to Jason Brown, an advertising CEO who has declared war on using these distracting gadgets in the workplace.

Brown’s smartphone crusade began when he delivered a presentation at a meeting filled with employees fiddling on their devices. “I lost it,” he said, which caused him to send this forceful message to the entire company: “Don’t show up at a meeting with me with your phone. If someone shows up with their phone, it’ll be their last meeting.” Brown isn’t the only boss to take a hard stance on his employees’ smartphone usage. At the communications firm L3 Technologies, an IT manager named Bill Hoopes devised a novel punishment for those who didn’t properly silence their devices. “Every time someone’s phone went off, they had to stand for the rest of the meeting,” said Hoopes. His policy didn’t seem to stop his staffers’ phones from ringing, however, causing Hoopes to demand that employees leave their devices at their desks during meetings.

The principles of these two managers are backed up by a 2016 survey that condemned smartphones as the leading killer of productivity in the modern workplace. Another study found that people showed lower cognitive performance when their phone was placed on their desk rather than their pocket or purse. On the other hand, smartphones allow employees to work remotely with ease as well as stay closely connected with their clients and colleagues. There’s also no proof that office-wide smartphone bans actually work. In fact, Brown’s company stuck with its hardline policy for just two months. Employees apparently got around the ban by bringing laptops and smartwatches into meetings, which proved to be just as distracting as their prohibited phones. Brown began to miss his device as well, leading him to compare his policy to the banning of alcohol sales during Prohibition: “A theoretical state that almost no one wants to live in, including those making the rules.”

Questions:

  1. Should managers try to limit the amount of time employees spend on their smartphones? Why or why not?
  2. Why did Jason Brown’s attempt to ban smartphones from meetings fail? Do you think a plan like his could ever work in an office environment?

Source: John Simons, “‘I Lost It’: The Boss Who Banned Phones, and What Came Next,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2018.

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