Thursday, June 7, 2018

Can and should you ban employee phone use at work?

Last night, the fam packed up the Hyman-mobile and headed out to see Jack White. It was my 7th time seeing him in any of his incarnations (White Stripes - 4; Raconteurs - 1; Solo - 2, if you’re counting), and he never disappoints. This time, however, was different in one key aspect. Jack has banned all phones from his tour. That means no in-venue selfies, no grainy photos or crunchy videos, and no one staring down at a five-inch screen instead of watching the artist on stage. It was a different, and pleasant, way to experience a concert in 2018, an experience I had not had in what feels like a decade. Instead of at least partly focusing on my phone, I focused 100 percent on the artist and his performance.

Which begs the question: can and should you ban cell phones at work?

An employer can prohibit its employees from accessing devices while working, unless that denial infringes on their right to engage in protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

Nevertheless can does not always mean should.

If your employees’ work is safety sensitive, then the answers is a clear yes. It’s simply too dangerous, and you take too much risk, if those employees are distracted by an incoming text message, call, Instsa-Snap, or whatever. They need to be as focused as possible. So for them, no phones, period.

What about everyone else? Here’s where I give you big ol’ lawyery “It depends.”

While you should expect your employees to give you their undivided attention while they are “on the clock,” we also expect a lot more from today’s employees than the traditional 9-to-5. If my employee, who is giving up nights and weekends for me, wants to spends a few minutes during the workday posting to Facebook, or checking the score of last night’s game, or texting his kids to make sure they got home safely from school, I don’t care. That is, I don’t care unless and until it reaches the level of distraction and impacts performance. Then, you should absolutely treat the performance problem like you would any other. I am not, however, a fan of treating a performance problem with a technology band-aid.

Might your employees take advantage or waste some time? Maybe (likely). But, how much wasted work-time is too much? To me, the answer is only when it hinders performance. Otherwise, I say read those reviews of last night’s concert and post those pre-concert selfies (see above).

My bottom line? Consider this policy: “Employees should keep personal cell phone use to a reasonable limit while working. Your manager or supervisor will determine what is, or is not, reasonable.” Thus, employees keep their phones, and you keep the discretion to take them away if abused.