Ban the phone

Employers and unions are increasingly discussing the right of an employer to ban mobile phones at work. In some organisations, this is already the case, such as large retailers, banks and some medical settings, but it is something which smaller employers still battle with.

My mobile number (although not my phone) is still the one I was given 25 years ago when working for Dixons Stores Group. This was at a time when Dixons wanted all staff to be owning, using and talking about their mobile phones to help increase awareness and demand.

Today, the mobile phone has become the bane of many employers lives, but they are also an essential work tool for many.

Many years ago, I worked in a prison and for security reasons, phones were not allowed anywhere within the building. All staff had lockers before you entered the prison and your phone and personal affects remained outside for your entire shift. It took a bit of getting used to even then. The same applied when I worked onsite at a pharmaceutical company. Before offering me the assignment, my boss asked me if I was ‘ok’ not to have my phone on me during the day. My son’s new employer also requires mobile phones to be locked in staff lockers in the rest room and these are only accessed during the two official breaks during the day.

So, with the use of mobile phones so restricted in some environments, why is it still an issue for small employers? Why do we not like to tell staff to “step away from your phone”.

For some, it is treating employees like children and about the lack of trust. For others it is just about not wanting to have a difficult conversation.

What about the employee, why would they be resistant to leaving their phones ‘at home’ during the working day? What happens if my kids need me? What happens if my elderly parents need me? What happens if the school needs to contact me? What happens if I break down going to or from work?

Here are some tips for employers who want to go ‘personal mobile phone free’ at work:
  1. Have a clear policy which reflects what you want your mobile phone policy to be. Some of the things you will need to think about include:
    1. What is the behaviour you are trying to stop? Annoying personal conversations which everyone can hear? Interruption to workflow? People taking calls in meetings? People wasting time on games, social media or browsing when they should be working?
    2. No phones in the office vs leaving phones in a bag. What happens to male employees who may not have a bag? What happens if you don’t have a secure place to leave phones.
    3. Can phones be used in the office during the day or only during breaks
  2. Think about how you use your mobile phone and whether you set the right example. It is hard to set a rule for staff, another for managers and another for you.
  3. Do you require staff to use a phone for work purposes? If so, do they use their own phone or a company mobile? If their own phone, what can they expense back to the company? What happens with company data, security of data, if they leave your business? If they have a company phone, can they take personal calls on it?
  4. If you have a no personal phone policy in place, what is on offer to staff in the event of an emergency? Is there a switchboard where someone can take a message from a spouse, parent or school? What is the procedure for ensuring that the message is passed on in a timely manner?
  5. Communicate your policy and be consistent in its application and dealing with breaches.

Making changes to a culture is never easy and ensuring your staff understand the ‘why’ will be really important to making a new policy embed fully within your company and culture.

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