Work worry: Should you use your smartphone in the office?

Author

Radhika Sanghani

October 27, 2014

A new study has shown that employers worry about young staff being on their smartphones excessively during the working day. Radhika Sanghani puts down her iPhone to ask career experts if it’s ever OK to use your mobile in the office

You’re at work and you get a notification on your phone. It’s a message from your friend and you’re sure it’s nothing serious, or work-related.

Do you:

a) Ignore it because you’re at work. They don’t pay you to socialise

b) Have a sneaky look and then get straight back to work

c) Read it and have a WhatsApp conversation – you’ve got sort out what you’re doing tonight, right?

The answer you choose will typically depend on what kind of job you have.

But it’s a dilemma that anyone with an office job and a smartphone faces. Now our phones don’t just tell us when someone is trying to call, or send a message – we get Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram notifications on our devices all the time. More than ever, there’s a temptation to read those messages and respond.

A recent LifeSkills study shows that 43 per cent of 500 small and medium-sized business enterprisesare worried about young recruits using their mobile at work. Employers are concerned that staff could spend too much time checking their messages and taking personal calls – especially when they’re tech-savvy millennials.

It’s a legitimate concern. But just how realistic is it?

The lines are blurred

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Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management, thinks employers need to be understanding: “I think boundaries have just got blurred. There always used to be the case of, you don’t do any personal stuff at work. However it doesn’t quite work like that anymore.

“You’re picking up your work emails and you’re checking them at 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock at night, and occasionally replying to them. So in some respect this should work both ways.”

But she stresses that it does depend on what kind of career you have. For some people, it would not be appropriate to use their phone during the day, while for others, it’s the norm.

“A lot of roles and jobs now involve social media as a key part,” she explains. “If you’re in PR you have to be checking what’s on Twitter. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to make the odd call from your desk,” she says.

Will bosses get it?

Anyone who works longer than 9-5 can sympathise with this. Sometimes you do really need to call the dentist, or the bank, and there is no other time you can do it other than during the working day. But do bosses understand?

Jenny Biggam, founder of media agency The 7 Stars, does. “I think it’s unrealistic if as an employee you can’t do personal things in your work time. If you start to impose those sorts of rules on your staff you get an attitude where they all go home at 5.30pm because that’s what their contract says they can do.

“We’re very much of the philosophy that if you treat people as adults and give them responsibility, people put more into that business.”

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Her attitude makes sense and rewards employees for working into their personal time. But what if your manager isn’t quite so reasonable?

“Sometimes it’s about educating your boss,” says Mills. If they mention your phone usage, explain what you’re doing. If you have to, gently remind them of all the work you do in your spare time.

“I think looking at smartphones in themselves isn’t an issue. But doing excessive amounts is.”

It’s why she stresses that it’s important to be sensible about phone usage at work – especially when making calls: “If it’s really functional just do it at your desk. If you need to have a long conversation, get out of the building or go into a quiet room. It’s distracting for other people and doesn’t send a great message about what you’re going to do.”

Give your job your full attention

Biggam agrees that distraction is an issue. She had to implement a rule in her company where staff were told not to bring smartphones and iPads to meetings, because they would become distracted. Those meetings would end up taking longer than necessary.

“It’s very tempting, if you get a message alert, to drift into that,” she says. “The thing we try and instil is: if you’re in a meeting you don’t take a device in. You give that meeting your full attention. For me it’s about encouraging people to pay attention to what they’re trying to do.”

Something that can be frustrating – or cause paranoia – among staff, however, is when they’re using their phones for legitimate work-related business, but it looks like they’re just sending personal messages.

In reality they could be texting clients to organise meetings, on social media for work purposes, checking their emails… the list goes on.

The difficulty here is that a boss could misinterpret the employee’s actions.

Mills says that the best way to avoid this is to drop subtle hints about using your phone for business. “If you’ve put out a work request on Twitter, mention to your boss that you’ve done this and show them on your phone if need be.”

It will inevitably vary on the nature of your job, but it’s advisable to casually let your boss know that you do use your phone for work before it becomes a problem.

Because as sensible as it might be to try and “educate” then, it’s probably the last thing you want to do on a Friday afternoon.

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