Cell phones are an important, beneficial, and necessary tool for communication and productivity in many cases. They give employees easy access to information and apps that can boost their efficiency and effectiveness on the job. However, when use isn’t regulated or monitored, cell phones can also be a significant risk of distraction, which can actually harm employee productivity and, worse still, employee safety.
So what can company leaders do to help their employees capitalize on smartphone technology while keeping their safety and productivity in mind? Start asking the question: What are you not looking at when you’re looking at your cell phone?
Here are three things employees miss seeing when looking at their cell phones:
One of the major risks of being glued to a cell phone is physical safety, both for the employee on the phone and their coworkers. On a job site, there are often many moving pieces that require close attention, from heavy equipment and vehicles to falling debris to swinging tools to tripping hazards. Even in an office environment, which tends to be less high-risk than workspaces in the field, there are tripping hazards, stairs, vehicles in parking lots, and equipment or technology that can be damaged when employees don’t pay enough attention to their physical environment. Not only can employees put themselves at risk, but by keeping their eyes on their phones, they also miss opportunities to identify and prevent accidents or injuries to coworkers. Many of the top workplace safety risks reported to OSHA can be tied to a lack of attention, and cell phone use is one of the biggest distractions to employees. Limiting cell phone use on the job is one way to increase an employee’s awareness of their environment and decrease their risk of danger or harm.
Research has shown that building positive relationships at work boosts employee engagement, productivity, and retention numbers — benefiting both employees’ mental health and companies’ bottom lines. Unfortunately, excessive cell phone use in the workplace can make it difficult for employees to build those relationships. If employees spend their break times or working hours focused on their phones, they limit the amount of eye contact and direct engagement they have with coworkers and managers, preventing meaningful conversations and thus strong relationship-building. A lack of good working relationships can also affect an employee’s prospects of promotions or other career opportunities. Of course, cell phones can be helpful in communicating with coworkers when used in healthy ways, but it’s important to consider how often and for what reasons employees are using cell phones at work.
When an employee is distracted by their cell phone, they are more likely to miss out on small details in meetings or on projects that can make a big difference in the long run. For example, an employee who checks their cell phone during a meeting might not hear important requirements or expectations that can increase the likelihood of a mistake on the job. It can also cause them to look distracted or not notice when they’re being spoken to or asked a question, negatively impacting their reputation at work. In addition, when reviewing projects, viewing plans, or working on detailed assignments, frequent phone breaks can decrease efficient production and increase the likelihood of making or overlooking errors, decreasing the overall quality of the work produced. Employees who are on their phones simply won’t be as present in situations that require full engagement. This level of distraction also slows down production, which makes projects take longer and can impact profit margins.
Workers in nearly every industry benefit from cell phone technology, but the truth is, cell phones also pose risks. Leaders can help by making employees aware that when they are looking at their phones, they are not looking at potential safety risks, relationship-building opportunities, and important details of their work, among other things. Armed with that knowledge, employees can make more informed decisions about when and how to use their cell phones, and when to set them aside and focus on what’s happening around them.