While people of all ages now spend much of the day on their smartphones, a recent study found that Generation Z, sometimes simply known as “screeners”, spend on average six hours per day using their smartphones. To be clear, smartphones use can also benefit employers. Indeed, as discussed in many previous eLeaP posts, the growing reliance on smartphones means that training can now happen anywhere and anytime and employees can now more easily access vital work-related information on the job. From medical interns to retail staff to plumbing apprentices, the value of using smartphones on the job continues to grow increasingly apparent. As such, in most cases, banning cell phones from the workplace is by no means the right answer, but cell phones can be distracting and raise major safety concerns. In this post, we examine some of the problems raised by the use of cell phones in work settings and how to train employees to use their phones in a manner that supports rather than compromises workplace goals and safety.

How to Manage “Screeners” in the Workplace: Smartphones in the workplace

Cell Phones: Workplace Aid or Dangerous Distraction?

An estimated 3 billion text messages are sent each day to and from people at work. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in workplace injuries and deaths related to text messaging and cell phone use. But injuries and fatalities are not the only problems.

Lack of attention to safety hazards: Whether you’re walking across an active construction site or driving a delivery vehicle, talking on the phone can be dangerous. Indeed, a growing number of accidents and even fatalities happen because workers are simply not paying attention to their surroundings.

Lack of attention to compliance: Smartphones, which are necessarily equipped with cameras, also pose potential problems in any workplace setting with confidential documents. A seemingly innocent photograph of a coworker meant to be shared with friends on Facebook or Instagram, for example, can result in a compliance error if confidential documents (e.g., patient files left on a desk) are also visible in the photograph or video.

Lack of attention to clients: How many times have you seen a babysitter or elder care worker walking down the street pushing a stroller or wheelchair while talking or surfing the web on their smartphone? Both childcare and eldercare workers are increasingly distracted on the job. In addition to failing to do their job, which entails paying attention to the children or elders for whom they have been hired to care, they are placing their clients at risk. Many two-year-old children, after all, are fully capable of unbuckling and running into the street while their smartphone-absorbed babysitters surf the web.

In addition to distracting workers, smartphones also pose other less immediate dangers. A recently published study in Computers in Human Behavior by three University of Waterloo researchers sought to investigate whether or not smartphones pose any significant risks to cognition. The researchers’ conclusion, while not entirely conclusive, is nevertheless somewhat sobering: “Our data indicate a robust and replicable relation between reasoning performance and high levels of Smartphone use.” What does this mean? In short, it means that reliance on cell phones may also simply be making us less capable of certain types of reasoning as we “offload cognitive effort” in an increasingly complex technological environment.

Recommendations for Employers

Rather than ban the use of smartphones in the workplace, it is advisable to implement smart smartphone use. Among other recommendations, organizations are advised to:

  • Determine where cell phones may and may not be used throughout the work environment.
  • Ensure all employees are aware of the potential safety risks of using phones on the job under specific circumstances (e.g. while caring for children, driving or walking around an active building or industrial site).
  • Ensure employees understand the dangers of using personal devices to circulate confidential information.
  • Restrict photographs and other recordings in the workplace.
  • Have clear consequences for employees who repeatedly use their cell phones in ways that run against established cell phone use regulations.

For more on cell phones in the workplace, also see eLeaP’s training course: Cell Phones in the Workplace: A Dangerous Distraction.

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