Ban on mobile phones at work – Possibility vs Profitability!

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 2110 , Published on 30 April 2014

Martin Cooper must not have imagined in his wildest dreams about how his invention – cell phone shall revolutionize the communication space. Captain James T.Kirk with his communicator on the television show – Star Trek, was inspiration for Cooper who dreamt of “personal telephone” i.e., a number to be assigned to a person, instead of, place like home, desk etc. Mobile phones began a fundamental technology and communications market shift to making phone calls to a person instead of to a place (land line or office line).

Gradually with the advent of technology, came in picture - the social media platforms like Orkut, Twitter, Facebook, Watsapp etc. Connectivity is like a child’s play now. Wink an eye and you get connected to people across 7 seas. Safely mobile phones can claim credits for making this world a borderless, virtual space – a boon for commerce, trade, entertainment, governments and many more.

However, this invention seems to be giving jitters to quite a few conventional, orthodox thinkers. My article in later part shall definitely explain the tag – orthodox. Cases in point are some world class organizations that have banned usage of mobile phones in office premises. Of the many reasons for such extreme step, excessive usage of mobile phones for personal affairs (read personal work) comes out to be the foremost one. The victims (employees) are definitely crying foul.

Organizations cite concerns like loss in productivity, recurring errors in documentation, poor customer service, reduced focus of employees, information misuse, social loafing etc as the repercussions of excessive usage of mobile phones at office premises. I have been consciously using the word “excess” usage. Now, a straight question to such “orthodox” thinkers – Which product or service – if excessively used doesn’t harm mankind. Almost none. Even a noble discovery like medicine if taken excessively harms the body, even leads to death in case of abusive use. Solution – Ban them?

“Orthodox” means - following or conforming to the traditional or generally accepted rules or beliefs of a religion, philosophy, or practice. Invent, innovate or Perish – seems to be the mantra for survival in this fiercely competitive world. Invention or innovations both challenge the old school beliefs.

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in their master piece – “First, Break all the rules” have challenged basic (read orthodox) beliefs of management with powerful evidence and a compelling argument. It explains why so many traditional notions and practices are counter-productive in business today.”

In this fiercely competitive world, where millions of large and small organizations are vying for the top spot in market by effectively mobilizing all the resources available, is it a smart move to handicap the most critical resource – employees by snatching away their freedom?

Military discipline is good for winning wars but Boardroom wars can be won by high emotional intelligence which emphasizes the word – “SELF”.

The victims (read employees) feel organizations have adopted a narrow view towards mobile phones. Easy connectivity, faster responses to customers, 24*7 customer services, learning and sharing, virtual teams, constant updates about the competitors and market, professional networking etc are some of the many benefits of allowing mobile phones at office.

Most of the service providers like banks, telecom companies, job portals, and govt. agencies use mobile numbers to reach their customers, which is adding to the woes of the employees. In this scenario of ban, employees miss out on important calls thus affecting their personal transactions. At times employees may have to extend work hours, thus, they remain disconnected from world for about 9-12 hours.

Orthodox organizations are challenging Cooper’s invention by snatching away the personal freedom which he gifted to the world and moving backwards to the era where numbers were given to place like (residence, office) etc. Why and how on this earth will the service providers call on office numbers where it is tedious to find customers among thousands of employees or residence numbers which have almost become obsolete. Faster connectivity makes it easier to attend personal or professional exigencies or else be at the mercy of the receptionist who may or may not be able to track you and pass on important calls during office hours.

New age Organizations on one hand advocate – “Work life integration” where an employee attends to work even after office hours or vice versa according to the priorities thus fuelling both, personal as well as professional lives. While on the other hand, old school organizations by banning the use of mobile phones during office hours are supporting – “work life balance” which is supposedly a passé where employees distinctly drew line between personal and professional life thus not attending office work after work hours and vice versa.

Abusive usage of mobile phones has prompted the organizations to resort to such tactics however; organizations need to understand that corporate policies should be framed by keeping the diverse workforce in mind. Diversity of caste, gender, region and age is vital variables for designing corporate policies. In case of ban on mobile phones, varied generations, will react differently to the cause and intention behind this policy. Baby boomers (born between 1946-64) may welcome the decision of ban with open hands but Generations X (born between 1965-1980) will resist and Generation Y (born between 1981-2000) will rebel due to the typical nature of these generations depending on socio-economic changes that happened during their upbringing.

Digital detoxification of work place is neither desirable nor beneficial to sustain profitability of organizations. “Straight Jacket” approach like banning the mobile phones without employee buy-in (involvement in decision making) will definitely boom rang. Especially the rebels – Generation Y will ensure no office calls after work even if it means, loss or they may even switch jobs to move to more friendly and open work environment.

Emotional Intelligence is the panacea. The management along with HR team should design a more inclusive awareness program to ensure appropriate (read controlled) usage of mobile phones at work. Give them the baton of “Self regulation” which will make them feel “empowered”. Take a cue from govt. awareness programs for voters. Should govt. announce jail terms for not voting? No. Instead the campaign only talks about power in the hands of voters thus improving voter turnout.

Organizations will still find offenders of abusive usage of mobile phone even after such campaigns. Here comes in picture – “sense of judgement”. What is the percentage of such offenders? 5%, 10% or more? Do we actually need to waste time micro managing these social loafers? Do we actually need to extrapolate their non-productivity ratio over the entire work force? Wisdom says – NO. So ideally organizations should not offend/penalize their socially responsible 75%-80% work force by rolling out such “dikats”. Instead try and weed out the non productive ones smartly and strategically using the weapon of “annual appraisals”.

Simpler HR models with specific actions will significantly help to achieve significant improvements in productivity, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profit. Monkey tactics like mobile or digital detox would only be seen as “dikat” opposed by smart work force. Ban on mobile phones @ work is definitely possibility but profitable...... only time will tell. Period !!

The article has been authored by Abhilasha Lunia, Torrent Pharma


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