Distractions at Work: Should Smartphone Usage be Restricted?
Competing for attention – how mobiles are creating distractions and safety risks at work
Smartphones have become vital tools for our everyday lives. There is no denying that mobile devices now play an essential role in how we travel, socialize, and communicate. So, it was only a matter of time before they would become important to how we work. This can bring many advantages such as increased convenience and efficiency in work. Mobiles also allow employees to keep in touch with family and friends at work in case of emergency.
However, this personal use should be reasonable and limited to appropriate moments. Due to their addictive nature, smartphone usage can very quickly become excessive which can lead to a number of problems. These problems stem from the negative effects that distractions and decreased concentration levels can have on productivity and workplace safety.
Companies today understand the need for employees to keep in touch with what is happening in the world at work. We live in an age where people expect us to be connected and contactable at every minute of the day. However, acceptable personal use on company time should be reasonable and limited. Personal internet usage or messaging can quickly become excessive if users become distracted. It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of reading the latest Twitter thread or watching endless Youtube videos.
Distractions such as these can have serious impacts on employee concentration and productivity levels creating extra costs for the company. In fact, it supposedly takes 25 minutes to regain focus after a 30 second distraction. Research has shown that actively checking and using smartphones has a tendency to distract us from achieving a state of ‘flow’, a state which enables us to become fully absorbed in a task in order to complete it. Studies in this area have found that interruptions even as brief as 2.8 seconds can disrupt the flow of concentration and lead to increased errors when performing cognitive tasks.
An Australian study conducted in 2018 found that a third (32%) of workers are regularly distracted by their smartphones and social media at work, while more than half of workers (51%) check their phones or social feeds up to ten times a day. Seven out of ten said they spent at least half an hour on social media at work. Nearly a quarter admitted to spending up to one and a half hours distracted by their phone every working day. Commenting on the results, the researchers stressed that “as technology becomes more prevalent in people’s lives, the use of smartphones and social media during working hours is only likely to increase”.
Mobile distraction is especially dangerous in high risk environments, i.e. driving a car or operating heavy machinery. Distracted driving is the number one cause of workplace fatalities and cell phones are the biggest cause of distraction in the form of texting, talking, and gaming. These distractions can affect employees’ spacial awareness, recognition of hazards, and concentration levels. And it isn’t just driving that poses a risk. Loss of focus while operating machinery (forklifts, cranes etc.), creates safety hazards for the employee and those around them.
Employees can equally face both individual, civil and criminal liability for accidents caused by mobile use while driving or other. Employers could also face vicarious pentalties for personal injury or property damage caused during the course of employment. An employer could be liable if an accident occurs on company time. For employers whose business requires the operation of motor vehicles or any kind of heavy machinery, it is essential to understand these risks and take positive action to prevent them.
Cell phone usage policies
So what can we do to reduce mobile devices stealing all of our attention and potentially risking the productivity and the safety of employees? Creating a clear and fair cell phone usage policy is essential. Due to the way we live today, it would be impossible to completely ban the use of mobile devices while at work. Employees need to be contactable and be able to stay connected to the world – to an extent. Therefore, most effective mobile usage policies restrict personal usage to a limited and reasonable amount. A policy might allow phone calls and messages but limit social media, gaming and video streaming. In most cases, the policy will prohibit usage altogether while an employee operates machinery or moving vehicles.
Software like Corrata Security and Control can be used to enforce such policies. Corrata provides an easy and discreet method for limiting employee mobile and internet usage during business hours. To reduce distractions and improve productivity, Corrata blocks access to social media, streaming services and gaming apps. Similarly, our software silences incoming texts and alerts while employees operate moving vehicles or machinery. Corrata only ever blocks or disables sites identified as distracting by the company. This allows the employee to stay connected, but provides the employer with complete peace of mind.