Can You Ban Mobile Phones in the Workplace?

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Mobile phones can be a massive distraction when at work and with a recent survey by Statista showing that 96% of adults in the UK own a mobile phone and 8 out of 10 people bring that phone to work, it’s no wonder that employers may often consider a workplace wide ban.

But does completely restricting the use of phones during the work day reap any benefits or can it cause more problems?

If you would like further advice on this issue from a professional HR consultant, or if you require support with creating and implementing a mobile phone policy, then please call us today on 0845 2626 260 or email us directly

What is the issue with allowing mobile phones in the workplace?

Research has found that having a personal phone to hand has a 48% negative impact on the quality of work and that, on average, up to 50 minutes of working hours are spent on a mobile phone every day doing non-work-related activities. This includes messaging friends, browsing social media or reading news articles.

This is not true for every employee, though, and can have broad variations amongst individuals with some people barely even looking at their phone all day, but it typically applies to younger staff / millennials.

Evidently, mobile phones can be a major distraction to both the employee with the phone pinging every half an hour and their colleagues around them. It could be causing employees to be less productive or under-perform so it is understandable that most employers might opt to have a strict mobile phone policy in place.

However, should this equate to a full-on ban of mobile phones at work?

How does a mobile phone ban work?

One industry that usually ‘bans’ mobile phones in the workplace are customer-facing roles such as retail workers, or those in the care sector.

In many cases, they ask employees to leave their phone in a locker or safe place with the rest of their belongings whilst they are working so that they are not distracted and can fully focus on serving customers or helping their patients and completing their work.

There are also industries where the use of mobile phones can be a health and safety hazard especially if you are working with machinery and could be distracted by a ringing phone in your pocket, or in cases where you are in a highly explosive or flammable work area.

The best way to implement a ban in instances like this would be to create a written policy and include it in employee handbooks and clearly communicate it to your staff. This policy will need to outline where employees should drop their phones at the start of the day and where they can pick them up during breaks or at the end of the day.

You may need to discuss this further in 1-2-1 meetings and you need to ensure that there is a safe and accessible space on the premises to keep employee phones for the duration of their work day.

You would also need to clearly state that you accept no liability for any damaged or stolen personal items whilst they are in your possession.

Should you ban mobile phones at work?

Before making a rash decision and banning mobile phones at work, you need to consider the important role that personal phones play and why a ban could do more harm than good.

For example, phones are an emergency line or connection to the ‘outside world’. An employee with children or a carer will need constant access to their phone should there be an urgent call from the school, childcare or their dependent.

Similarly, if an employee’s family member has an accident or falls ill then they would need access to their phone to be kept up to date on their well-being.

There are ways to work around this, such as having a main line/reception contact number that your employees can provide as their emergency contact so that they can still be reached whilst at work.

But you should also weigh up the practical implications with the effect on employer-employee relationship such as, could a mobile phone ban cause resentment, might it lead to a decrease in retention rates, does it appear as though you don’t trust your employees?

These are all things that you would need to consider before imposing a mobile phone ban.

What about creating a more relaxed mobile phone policy?

It’s safe to say there will always be distractions in the workplace and a mobile phone is probably the least of your worries.

We’re living in an age where many of us are attached to our phones to the point where it becomes an extension of us and so taking that away can cause a lot of issues and even a little hysteria.

We would advise that you give your employees trust and freedom by not enforcing such a strict ban.

Plus, if they are performing well and generally well behaved then does it really matter that they reply to the text from their mum, check their weather app or browse the news every couple of hours. The most important thing is that their work is getting done to a high standard and they are not causing you any issues or hassle.

However, if you notice that some employees are being negatively affected by having their mobile phone with them at work, or you want to ensure that things don’t get out of hand with phone usage, then you can create a relaxed mobile phone policy that is included in your employee handbooks.

This policy should outline any rules over the use of personal mobile phones in the workplace, such as forbidding certain activities like game playing, posting on social media or shopping, and state that phones must be kept on silent or vibrate-only during working hours.

You can also request that personal phone calls must be made only during breaks unless it is an emergency and your supervisor has been notified, and you can add that phones are not to be taken to the bathroom or into meetings.

Furthermore, if your employee’s role requires them to use a phone whether it be to make calls to clients or to manage social media accounts, then you should provide them with a work phone to do so.

These fair restrictions can help lessen the distraction that mobile phones can sometimes cause without enforcing any oppressive rules.

Of course, if an employee does consistently break these rules and is found to be misusing their phone during working hours then it can become a disciplinary issue.

All in all, mobile phone bans should be decided on a case by case basis as there are some roles and industries where a ban is encouraged for GDPR and safety reasons.

One such example would be teachers or anyone who works with children.

By having a mobile phone to hand, there is an increased risk of photos being taken or personal information about the company/children being shared publicly.

Sometimes a strict social media policy and mobile phone policy can discourage this; however, it would be far safer to remove the temptation completely by enforcing a ‘no mobile phones at work’ rule and taking them from your employees before they enter the premises.

Mobile phone bans are a complex workplace issue. If you would like further advice on this or you have a disciplinary issue due to the misuse of mobile phones, then contact our professional HR consultants today. Call us on 0845 2626 260 for a no-obligation quote for our services

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