Distracted at Work: Why every workplace needs a mobile phone policy

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While a few minutes won’t hurt, excessive mobile phone use can be a major distraction at work, affect productivity and can be a workplace hazard. Photo: Foundry, Pixabay

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Photo: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

People nowadays have the need to constantly be connected. Mobile phone manufacturers have made it even easier for workers to connect, which can be a major distraction at work.

A cause for concern

Australia has the 9th highest number of smartphone subscriptions (19 million) in the world. The 2014 AIMIA Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index shows that 89% of Australians own a smartphone. Moreover, the ACMA Australian Digital Lives Report 2014 reveals that 10.7 million Australians go online more than once a day. These numbers will increase in the years to come. Unfortunately, personal device use does not end when work hours begin.

Many Australian workers use their mobile devices to send emails, make personal phone calls, send text messages, and check their social media accounts while at work. And while a few minutes won’t hurt, excessive mobile phone use can be a major distraction at work, affect productivity and can be a workplace hazard.

Nomophobic?

Mobile phone addiction has been proven to cause serious health risks for workers that experts have already coined a term for it: nomophobia. Symptoms for this condition include feeling of anxiousness when separated from smartphone, difficulty in focusing at work, and constantly checking phone for notifications.

In an interview with the Business Insider, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, Dr David Greenfield said nomophobia is similar to other kinds of addiction where there is dysregulation of dopamine in the body. Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating emotional responses and a person’s movements.

“Every time you get a notification from your phone, there’s a little elevation in dopamine that says you might have something that’s compelling, whether that’s a text message from someone you like, an email, or anything,” Dr Greenfield told the Business Insider.

“The thing is you don’t know what it’s going to be or when you’re going to get it, and that’s what compels the brain to keep checking. It’s like the world’s smallest slot machine.”

Employers are taking action

Some Australian businesses have decided to ban the use of mobile phones at work to improve safety and boost productivity among workers. One Perth business owner decided to implement a mobile phone policy at work after he noticed that mobile phone use started causing problems a few years ago.

“I found there was too much distraction of the guys picking up their phones, answering text messages or checking Facebook,” Ultimate Auto Service and Restoration Centre owner Graham Billington told The Huffington Post Australia.

“Basically, by the time they started to focus back on the job, 20 minutes had passed and certain things started to get missed. It became a real distraction and I had concerns for safety and productivity,” he said.

In the United States, some companies like FedEx have totally banned cellular phones in their facilities. Owens Corning has also implemented a cell phone policy for more than three years now to eliminate safety risks in the workplace.

“It came down to expanding our efforts to eliminate risk even further,” stated Matt Schroder, Owens Corning Internal Communications and Corporate Media Relations Leader in a case study.

“Our company’s performance in safety had reached a point where our injuries had significantly decreased, so we continued to focus our efforts toward eliminating risk before an injury happens. Broadening these efforts took us to a place where we knew every employee would be affected. Just as we would expect in our plants, when this risk was fully recognised, we decided to take action to eliminate it.”

Inappropriate use of mobile phones can potentially cause serious injuries especially for workers handling forklifts and other heavy machinery, as well as truck drivers. As these jobs require workers their full attention, being distracted by text messages or incoming calls can become a serious safety hazard not just to the worker but to his colleagues and other people as well.

Safety over convenience

The advent of mobile phones made communication and the capability to connect easier for everyone. It provides us instant access to information and a better way to communicate. When used appropriately, mobile phones can be beneficial, but using this powerful tool the wrong way can affect not just our productivity at work but can also be an occupational hazard.

If mobile phone use could potentially cause harm in the workplace, the best way, as recommended by safety experts, is to establish a work safety policy on the use of mobile devices while at work. Workers should also be encouraged to seek help if they feel that they are going through smartphone addiction. Employers should provide counselling as part of the company’s work health and safety program.

As with any other occupational safety issues, any health and safety approach to address the problem of mobile phone use in the workplace will only be effective if workers understand the dangers that can result from excessive smartphone use, and are willing to make changes to create a safer workplace for everyone.

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