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The British Library has a smartphone ban on café staff whilst working, Tesco employees have to put their phones in lockers and there is increasing evidence of unsupervised employees, such as nannies, being subject to a similar ban. (The Times) Should you ban them?

What are the pros of an outright ban?

  • Outside social contact at work is effectively stealing the employers time; time for which the employee is being paid. An outright ban protects the employer’s time.
  • Others using devices, particularly phones, disrupt other employees. We know that an interruption can cause up to 25 minutes of ineffective time while we re-engage our thoughts to the task in hand. It is hard to avoid being interrupted if an intriguing conversation is going on within earshot. A ban stops this.
  • During meetings checking phones, texting, messaging, etc. reduces productivity. A ban prevents this.
  • In the twentieth century, contact at work had to be via the employer’s switchboard. The mobile option didn’t exist therefore a ban is reasonable.
  • Some younger staff are addicted to their devices and so anything short of an outright ban doesn’t work.
  • Increased security, especially in the light of GDPR. Smartphones can result in security breaches both of intellectual property and of personal data.

And the cons?

  • An employee might have a compelling reason for having a phone beside them, a frail parent at home or a child outside (or even inside) school hours. Once a ban is lifted for one it becomes more difficult to enforce for others.
  • It reflects a culture of mistrust. There are alternative, and effective ways, of preventing excessive use of smartphones and other devices.
  • Mistrust undermines commitment, engagement and employee well being – all bad for productivity.
  • It treats younger staff as irresponsible.
  • Use of smartphones and other devices can actually improve productivity for the employer. Allowing some personal use can be a good “quid pro quo”. If there is no ban then a Bring Your Own Device to Work (BYOD) policy may be wise.

Our view

As well as BYOD policies, Employer Solutions provides policies that restrict the use of phones at work. On balance we favour restriction to minimal use, two or three calls per day of two to three minutes duration. These are to include emails, texts, and other forms of messaging. It provides for working parents to have essential contact with their children, a call to one’s spouse to say they will be working late (!) and the occasional essential social contact. A policy such as this, with some guideline restrictions, and backed up with appropriate supervisory action is the best balance. Treat your employees like children, by implementing a ban, and well…

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice