In a recent HR Compliance 101 newsletter, I explained the alternatives for employers who are concerned about the effect of personal cell phone access on employee productivity. There are steps employers can take short of an outright ban of cell phones to make sure that employees are giving their full attention to the job, not to text messaging their friends and family. But cell phone use raises other problems that the employer may not recognize: disintegration of an employee’s life/work balance, the need for changes in communication, and threats to company security.
Employers who fail to recognize that employees need downtime away from the job may send emails, text messages, and phone calls at every hour of the day and night—and expect an immediate answer. That attitude increases stress on the employee, may violate wage and hour regulations, especially for hourly employees who must be paid for overtime, and forces employees into decision making at all hours, when they may not be at their best. Further, employees may be driven to answer while driving, a dangerous situation for anyone on the road. Employers have a responsibility to recognize the boundary between work hours and downtime if they want productive employees.
A change in communication style is another problem that employers may fail to recognize. The phone is no longer used for phone calls. Respondents to a recent IDC survey of 7,400 Smart phone owners found that these owners spent an average of 132 minutes a day on their phones, but only 16 percent of that time was spent on phone calls. Therefore, managers must be ready to engage with employees (and customers) through texting or emails rather than face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Many companies are providing technology such as smart phones for their employees. This approach has the advantage of giving the company’s IT department some control over security. The ease of modifying smart phones with apps and accessing unapproved sites means that security will always be an issue, regardless of who owns the technology or what rules are set in place; but some control is better than none. The Employee Handbook should outline the rules regarding security and use of company-owned cell phones on and off the job.
In all of the arguments for and against connectivity, one message is clear: your employees are acting in exactly the same way as your customers. If you find cell phone usage frustrating with employees, you may be missing opportunities to reach your customers—because they are the same people, with the same desire to stay connected through their devices.
HR Compliance 101 is experienced in developing company policies for personal and company-owned cell phones. Please contact us.