Ways to Combat Cell Phone Abuse in the Workplace

When the Pew Research Center surveyed the adoption of communications technology in 2013, it found cell phones in the hands of 91 percent of the U.S. adult population. In an always-connected world, employees' use of cell phones on the job can lead to the loss of trade secrets, the threat of legal action in response to harassing or sexually inappropriate behavior, or decreased productivity from electronic distractions. How you regulate your workforce can determine how well you minimize the cyberslacking to which cell phones can contribute.

Personal Vs. Company Phones

Companies that issue cell phones to employees face multiple challenges in regulating workplace use. They must allow the use of "official" phones for company business and control the prospect of personal use of these devices, at the same time that they develop and enforce policies to stipulate how, when and where employees can use their own personal phones. Because company-issued phones are billed to the company, invoiced call details can reveal personal use that flouts the rules. Enforcement of business-only use of these devices works only if billing and human-resource departments communicate effectively. In some cases, you may decide to issue phones that can't dial certain area codes, such as the 900 series used for pay services. Look for smartphones that include enterprise-level Mobile Device Management features that provide safe, encrypted access to sensitive company data so your employees' authorized phone use doesn't compromise proprietary information.

Designated No-Phone Zones

Some workplaces regulate cell phones by designating specific areas as no-phone zones. In manufacturing facilities, for example, the fabrication area may be declared off limits, as much for safety reasons as for productivity's sake. Particularly in facilities that produce items under heavily controlled conditions -- foods, medicines, technology in clean rooms -- and in situations that require constant attentiveness, such as hospitals or correctional institutions, your company policies may require employees to leave personal communication devices behind in a locker or other secure location during on-the-clock hours.


Along with where you allow cell phone use, your company faces the issue of when to permit it. Some companies allow personal cell phones at employees' desks so long as the devices don't ring or vibrate. Some prohibit these devices in meetings. In workplaces that don't regulate cell phone use explicitly, unproductive workers face dismissal for failure to perform, regardless of whether that failure stems from cell phone abuse or from any other cause.

Policies & Other Considerations

The keys to establishing and enforcing a cell-phone policy in the workplace lie in clarity, disclosure and consistency. A clearly articulated set of rules, written in plain language rather than in legalese, lays out what you allow and what you prohibit. Every new employee should receive and must read and sign a copy of the policy prior to commencing employment, and every employee also should follow that acknowledgment procedure whenever the rules change. From the top to the bottom of the hierarchy and throughout the organization, the rules apply consistently to everyone, with no favorites and no exceptions that the policy doesn't outline. For example, you may choose to accommodate elder or child care, employees with illness in the family and impending births. As devices change and evolve, policies must keep pace with what the devices can do and how people use them or risk becoming irrelevant to the very technology you devise them to regulate.

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