Partner An unnamed firm
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Is phone addiction bad for health and productivity?

AccountingWEB's anonymous partner ponders the pervasive productivity issues caused by staff mobile phone use and asks: is it time for businesses to hang up?

21st Oct 2019
Partner An unnamed firm
Columnist
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lots of smartphones
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If any of us discovered that a member of staff or, even worse, one of our fellow partners had a problem with drugs, alcohol or gambling, I have little doubt that we would take precipitate action.

The less charitable might show them the door, while more sympathetic new-age types would probably suggest medical or psychological help as a matter of urgency.

I may not be the only accountant who is beginning to wonder whether the pervading influence of the mobile phone, particularly the smart adaptation of the species, could be almost as addictive and damaging to the personalities of our nearest and dearest?

Going one step further, I firmly believe that smartphones are reducing productivity in the office, often to a significant degree.

I have heard the theory, always posited by those in their middle and later years, that this problem largely affects the “young”.

While the issue can sometimes be more obvious while registering the panic on the face of a junior who has misplaced his or her mobile for a few minutes, haven’t we all sat in meetings with positively ancient colleagues who prefer to check their emails or browse the web rather than concentrating on the tedium of a dispute about the correct placement of staples in letters to clients, HMRC latest antics or the colour scheme for the men’s washroom?

The addiction issue is becoming serious and pervasive. Many people seem to juggle two or three mobiles, barely able to answer one before moving to the next. I sometimes wonder whether one or two might actually be texting themselves?

I mentioned the junior who misplaces a phone above. In many cases, I observe that colleagues seem bereft without their phones. Indeed, the position has become so serious that if they were to leave their phone at home for a day and feared it lost, certain sufferers would be literally unable to work. I’m no doctor but that sounds pretty close to a serious medical condition.

I am well aware that KPMG has just withdrawn phones from many members of staff but that appears to be an ill-judged economy measure rather than a bid to improve their mental health.

However, perhaps a solution of that kind is the way forward. Wouldn’t it be great to limit mobile phone use during office hours? Clearly, there is a business need for some activity but scanning social media several thousand times a day does not fit within this brief. Nor does shopping for a new handbag or manbag (or even a new man/woman, which I have spotted over at least one colleague’s shoulder while chasing them for some overdue work).

It would be fascinating to carry out an experiment in which phones were confiscated for a fixed period and productivity was measured. I would bet the value of a new iPhone that considerably more work would be carried out as a direct result.

I would hate to have it suggested that I am proposing the imposition of a kind of nanny state mentality into our businesses. Even so, I really do wonder whether the time has come to take positive action which will benefit all involved.

If my theory is correct, we would end up with happier staff and partners, clients getting better service and a boost to the profitability of our practices. Who could say no to that proposition?

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