With 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.