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Can You Hear Us Now?

While there is no question that employee productivity is a concern for all employers, there is at least one study supporting the notion that short “smartphone” breaks during the workday may not only be inevitable but actually a good thing.

A doctoral student at Kansas State University looked at the impact of smartphone breaks during the workday on employees’ overall happiness and well-being. To conduct the study, an app was developed to privately track the participants’ smartphone usage of social media and other entertainment apps during the workday. At the end of each work day, users were surveyed on their perceived emotional state.

The study found that participants averaged 22 minutes on their smartphones during an average 8 hour day. (It was unclear whether these 22 minutes were in addition to routine coffee or water breaks). The study also concluded that employees who took these smartphone breaks to access websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instragram, left work happier.

The study’s author analogized taking a short break to look at a friend or family member’s Facebook page as akin to grabbing a cup of coffee or chatting with coworkers. Because smartphones can provide a much-needed break from a demanding 8-hour workday, it was not unusual to find that those employees who accessed these apps left work more content.

Of course, this study does leave many unanswered questions. For instance, what effect do these smartphone breaks have on overall employee productivity? Were the employers surveyed during this same time period to determine whether there was an impact on productivity? Don’t get us wrong. We do agree with the notion that happier employees tend to be more productive and not as prone to burn out or dissention. However, happy employees may not always meet their employer’s productivity standards.

Regardless, this study does highlight the obvious. Smartphones are here to stay and all employers should ensure that their computer use and information technology policies address employee use of smartphones during the workday. These policies should address not only employees’ use of smartphones during working hours but also what type of information can (and cannot) be accessed from employees’ smartphones. Additionally, these policies must be enforced uniformly to avoid any claims of disparate treatment.