How to deal with distracted employees

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Many employers often struggle with employees who use their mobile phones excessively during work hours. Others have to deal with employees who make too many personal calls on their business mobiles. This temptation results in a 20 per cent reduction in productivity costing businesses thousands of dollars over a period of time and de-motivates colleagues.

Guidelines on the personal use of mobile phones might need to be established to ensure employees are concentrating on the job at hand rather than their mind being elsewhere. Here are some suggestions to help get started.

1. Make it about performance
Managing personal device use in the workplace is often an issue of performance. If your top performers are checking social media a few times per day but are still producing great results, it’s not a big deal. However, when employees are on their phones frequently and they’re failing to perform at a high level, it starts to become an issue. Employers and managers may want to handle personal device use on a case-by-case basis. This means identifying poor producers who are frequently on their devices, and making the conversation about performance, not just the distraction at hand.

2. Create a policy
When less formal policies fail to limit personal device use in the work place, it may be time to set out some clearly defined rules on paper. A detailed personal device policy for the workplace should outline etiquette, rules and guidelines for usage, access, security and privacy, and consequences for violating the policy. Both employees and managers should be required to read and sign these documents, and disciplinary action should be enforced when employees fail to adhere to the rules. We live in a mobile, digital world, and personal device use in the workplace can’t be completely avoided – at least not without serious consequences for workplace morale and employer-employee trust. However, with clear guidelines and reasonable expectations in mind, managers can ensure that productivity isn’t being harmed by occasional personal device use.

3. Consider a ‘silent’ workplace
Many workplaces enforce a ‘rule of silence’ in open work areas. Workers are encouraged to turn off anything that beeps, chirps, chimes or dings so the only sounds left are the sounds of productivity and maybe quiet music in the background.

4. Lead by example
If you are in the habit of talking on your mobile, or taking calls when employees are trying to speak to you, chances are your employees will think it’s fine to do the exact same thing. Gone are the days when employees automatically showed submission and respect to someone just because they’re the boss – these days it’s all about leading by example.

5. Allow (some) exceptions
Some employees have a genuine need to keep their phone handy – they might have a sick relative or a little one who needs to call when they are safely home from school. Be flexible.

6. Communication
Talk to staff about why there is a need in today’s world to implement mobile phone guidelines. Explain the math of how much is lost in productivity and how it could down the track affect their job security. Staff need to feel as though they are not being singled out but rather a team process. Even ask them to offer feedback and suggestions for the guidelines.. Employees who draw a hard line on personal device use run the risk of micromanaging, which may do more to hurt morale than help productivity. Many businesses are finding that it’s more effective to take a balanced approach.

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Terri Billington
Terri Billington is a Business Mentor at TCB Rocks. She is an award winning coach, corporate trainer and profiler at TCB Rocks. She also holds 15 and 30 day programs in Bali teaching people how to build a global business.