Employee Texting at Work: How Do You Handle It?

text messaging during a staff meeting in the officeWith technology an ever-increasing part of people’s lives, cell phone use at work is a growing concern among today’s employers. Specifically, texting, which is favored by most employees due to its discreteness and convenience, is an issue that many employers have a difficult time addressing. (Personal calls, which are much more disruptive and time-consuming than texting, are a completely separate issue.)

Many employers struggle with what kind of texting policy to implement, if any at all, and most bosses wonder just how much productivity is lost due to employee texting. So what kind of policy is best? And how will that policy affect your company?

Texting and Productivity

It’s understandable that employers would worry about texting’s impact on productivity. Most employers consider it a productivity drain, and in some cases, it really is. In most instances, however, understand that employee texting is no more a drain on productivity than employee water cooler stops or bathroom breaks. Most employees treat texting like any other form of short break and are generally very responsible with how they choose to use their time.

In fact, in many cases, it’s possible that a company-wide cell phone ban could have the exact opposite effect on your employees’ productivity than if you’d allowed them to keep their phones at their desks. This is partly due to the fact that employees hate being treated like children, and it’s also due to the fact that cell phones are a necessity in today’s world. Not only do employees rely on their phones to notify them in case of emergencies, but many have also come to rely on occasional text messages from family members to provide much needed pick-me-ups when their mood at work begins to slump.

If you ban your employees from even occasional cell phone use throughout the day, it’s probably going to have a very negative effect on their morale. And if you know anything about motivating employees, then you know that a drop in morale usually equates to a drop in productivity. Causing your employees to feel isolated by banning occasional texting likely won’t solve your productivity problems because those irresponsible employees who find the opportunity to waste company time with their cell phones will probably find just as many ways to waste company time without them.

Developing a Policy

This is not to say, however, that employee cell phone use should always be permitted. Your company’s policy for texting at work will depend entirely on the size of your business, your company culture, and your area of expertise. If your business requires employees to drive, for example, then cell phones and texting are obviously not going to be permitted on company time; if your employees interact face-to-face with customers on a regular basis (like most jobs in sales, food service, etc.), then again, cell phone use should be discouraged when around customers; and if your employees have access to your company’s top secret prototype, then a cell phone ban is obviously a practical measure. If your employees do little more than work quietly at their desks, however, there’s usually little reason why they should have this small freedom taken away.


Whether you decide to implement a texting policy at your company or not, understand that you should always leave room in the rules for exceptions. If you allow your employees limited cell phone use, for example, and you find that one employee is abusing the privilege, make sure they understand that there can be consequences. Treat employees who are distracted by their cell phones with the same disciplinary action as you would any employee whose productivity is suffering, whether that involves written or verbal warnings or other methods. Avoid punishing the whole team with an all-inclusive cell phone ban just because one employee abused the privilege.

On opposite side of this example, if you do choose (for whatever reason) to ban cell phones at work, always leave open the possibility for employees to keep their phones close in extenuating circumstances. Employees who have a sick family member, who are expecting an important phone call or text message (from a doctor or lawyer, for example), or who have a spouse in a dangerous line of work are some employees who you should consider allowing access to their phones.

Whatever you decide for your business’s texting policy, be sure that your rules are tailored to your individual company. Your texting policy should leave room to grant special permission or revoke the privilege on a case-by-case basis, and you should keep your employees’ needs in mind when developing your rules. The bottom line is, however, the employees worth having will always be happiest and most productive when you make them feel trusted and appreciated.


  1. This reminds me of my friend who works at Wells Fargo. He told me that his team’s meeting productivity would increase 40% or more if everyone wasn’t texting and checking their texts during meetings. These same employees were guilty of occasionally checking texts while driving.

    After my three year old daughter was nearly run down by a texting driver in 2009, I invented an app to manage texting whether the user is at home, in the office or on the road. OTTER (One Touch Text Response) has GPS road safety features and a silent texting Auto Reply with a timer and unlimited, grouped, customizable responses. Its simple and easy to schedule “texting blackout periods” so you can focus on the task at hand, like an important meeting – or anything like… watching a movie. Maybe technology can help us get back to doing one thing at a time with quality results.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app

  2. I disagree that cell phones are necessary in this day and age. And, it seems like the people who are texting during work are doing it all day long, or I have an uncanny nack of happening to walk by when they’re doing it..Either way, it makes me want to take a sledge to their Iphones when I see it..

    • Hey there,
      I was a major offender at sexting at work. I screwed up big. Now with everyone doing it back to me, I feel the same way as you do at this time.

    • Amen to that, my co worker who is a black/female is on the damn cell phone all day long texting, Makes me sick and i want to chuck that damn thing., while she is Texting im working my ass off. Double standard for white male’s

  3. I agree with Jay. People who start, have trouble stopping – and the habit usually gets worse before it gets better.
    As a manager, politely ask the employee if the matter is important and maybe they need to take some time off to go and straighten things out in person. Give them a choice with obvious consequences – communication that is non-business related can wait until coffee breaks or lunch time, or when they are off ‘my-time.’

  4. Tracyspencer says:

    I think the best policy is to have set times that employees can’t text like meetings, or when directly dealing with customers. Also texting should be handle on a case by case basis. If the employee is completing task and its not decreasing productivity then leave them alone. If customers are complaining or their work is slacking then that is different. Again if you try to be a control freak and assume the employee is not working just because you see an occassional text then that will def decrease moral.

  5. Victor Sans says:

    All smartphone use has become a terrible problem for my company and my best friends company. My bff owns a restaurant and I own a gym. Neither of us had policies, as this was not a problem a decade ago. In 2012 we both began “asking” employees to “limit” phone use. It was barely effective. As the reader said above, the habit is hard to break once started. By end of 2012 we began “sign out sheets” for all “breaks”, this included cell phone use, smoking, bathroom, etc: Anything that was not “work” needed to be “signed out” BUT we did not remove pay from checks. We simply “logged” the amount of time our employees were not working. In the past week we both sat down and went over our logs. Here’s the results:

    My employees are paid $9 – $12 an hour ($9 for basic staff, $12 for advanced staff). On the average ->day<-, FOUR TO SEVEN HOURS were being wasted between 5 employees; a 20 minute text conversation, a 10 minute phone call, checking facebook 3 times a shift, checking Instagram for 15 minutes, taking a smoke break and accidentally staying outside for an extra 12 minutes due to being involved with instant messenger…it REALLY adds up! Think about those numbers: if 5 hours a day are wasted at $10.50 pay, thats $52.50 right off the top, plus the money for all taxes. $52.50 a day x 30 days in a month = $1,575 a month x 12 months a year = ***** $18,900 A YEAR ***** in FRAUDULENT PAYROLL.

    And that was just my results. My friends results for his restaurant we 25% higher because he has more employees.

    We are both at the brink of insanity with this ongoing problem and financial drain. And "fire the employees" has already been done over and over and over. In fact we both have done a total "house cleaning" in the past year.

    In regard to Tracys statement about "texting should be on a case-by-case basis", as an employer you can't have different sets of rules for each employee, thats asking for trouble.

    • Andrew Jensen says:


      I feel your pain. We’re running now into employees addicted to habitual use of their phones for checking email, texting, Facebooking, tweeting, etc. When an employee in this category is away from their mobile device for too long, they actually begin to display withdrawal symptoms and it even becomes difficult for them to stay focused on their work.

      As virtually every employee has smartphone capability now (in contrast with just a couple years ago), it’s becoming all the more important for a company to “lay down the line” when it comes to personal device use (and put the rules in writing and strictly enforce them).

      I have employees who have told me, “But I’ve got to stay in communication with family!” My response is often, “What did you do before cell phones?”

      Except in cases of emergency, communication with friends and family should be reserved for scheduled breaks. Some companies are even requiring employees leave their mobile devices in lockers and only access those lockers during meal breaks and when completing their shifts. Smartphones are wonderful tools, but they can also drain a company’s ability to care for its customers or to generate profit.

  6. Tracey Simms says:

    True story: We own a small grocery store. Text messaging became such a problem in 2010. We took the same measures as Victor and asked employees to please limit use. No success. We tried taking away phones and storing them in the office, which is locked. We would give them back at break. This resulted in rapid turnover and actual product theft, not just time theft.

    In 2011 we could not afford it anymore. The store brings in about $3,000 a day gross. Let’s say $2,000 a day net. We were losing 15% off the top to employee error based on texting and stolen time. In several cases, products were incorrectly priced due to an employee not focusing and trying to price while texting or doing what-have-you on their phone. We had more errors, one which near-resulted in a lawsuit. An employee was stocking shelves and his phone rang. He answered it, became involved in the conversation and neglected to pay attention to his job. The following day a woman reached for a glass bottle of sauce and caused a display collapse due to improper stacking. I could go on and on. Texting and cell use is not just time theft! It can BANKRUPT YOUR BUSINESS!!! Not to mention the terrible press.

    Fast forward to 2012. We were sink or swim. We had LAID OFF 50% of our staff due to not being able to afford to pay for employees to socalise via their phones. We were now down to skin n bones in terms of workers. The workers still continued to steal time every free moment. We were at a loss when we went to the bank and applied for a loan to purchase two U-Scan / Self-Scan / Automated (Computerized) Checkout machines. These are not cheap at all, but neither is 15% of $3,000 a day to pay for Twitter, Facebook and texting about after-work plans!

    Now it is the final chapter of 2013 and we have two U-Scans. We have been able to terminate numerous employees thanks to our robots! The U-Scans never need “cell phone time”. The amount of money we have SAVED with the U-Scans has already near paid for its self.

    I do feel horrible that robots are taking over, but if my employees didn’t drain me of 15% a year in texting / cell use, I never would have gone this option.

    I hope some employees read my story and realize that saying “But I’ve got to stay in communication with family!” is when you will be replaced by a computer and you’ll have more time than needed to spend with your family without needing to text.

  7. I work for a major insurance company, the the 21 year old girl that sits next to me texts all day long, takes selfies and talks on the phone….all while there is a policy of no texting and no phone calls at your desk

    • Let the cell phone companies pay their salaries
      Most employees don’t give a rat about you
      So why worry about them
      A A Men

  8. It would appear that texting while at work is a very real problem for us managers. I was looking for help from other business professionals on how they handle this issue; but it is evident that we are all pretty stumped on the sensitivity of this problem. Why cant our employees be as professional as we are????

  9. Mobile phones are a huge issue!! If you are in an office and see over 100 people a day at reception and there are workers chatting behind a wall with their phones out as well, it’s not fair on the person at reception desk having to put through the patients all by themselves. Our policy at work is to have your phones in your bag at all times and to only check during breaks which we get a 15 minute tea break and an hour lunch break (ample time!!) and if we are not busy you can check then. People are just doing it non stop. If it is an urgent thing people should call you at work because it’s just an absolute joke. It seems the young ones love to stay on their phones all day and don’t give a damn about anyone else.

  10. I work as chef..
    it is very dirty and unhygienic to use your phone then go cook someone’s food.
    I constantly remind the staff of this.
    I ask for them to ask if they need to step out to use their phone.
    Do customers really want to see an employee on their ohone?
    Why is it. Business’s responsibility to pay an employee to handle personal affairs or issues?
    And then why do coworkers have to put up with an employee being in a bad mood, if they are fighting with their significant other all day?
    I hired a new cook, I told him our phone policy.
    His first day the phone was out over 30 times.
    Come on! Is this really what a business owner should have to deal with.
    I understand employee morale… but whatever happen to professionalism.

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