Monday, 21 July 2014

It's OK to check your smartphone

So do you take a sneaky look at your smart phone in work every now and again? Would you do it if the boss was watching? How would you view a colleague you saw checking their phone regularly during the working day? It turns out that maybe we need to take a relaxed approach to this. Sooyeol Kim at Kansas State University got 72 employees to put an app on their phone that tracked their usage throughout the working day.

While it might sound a little big brother like, the findings were interesting. The employees averaged 22 minutes on their phones during a standard 8 hour day, or just about 5% of their work time. In case you think 5% is a bit of a waste, it’s less than the time we spend at water coolers or bathroom breaks (which we rarely take a dim view of). Considering a lot of people eat ‘al desko’ and only take minimal meal breaks, the 22 minutes per day seems fair enough.

Sooyeol Kim also looked at how people felt once their day was done. The workers who took smartphone breaks were happier after their days work. The researchers suggest that the smartphone breaks, even if they are just for a few minutes, allow us to feel connected with family or loved ones. The odd little game or reading the sports news can be a welcome distraction from the stress of the job. This can help us get back into work a little more refreshed.

There are other studies out there which suggest all distractions are bad for productivity and that it takes us a while to pick up where we left off. From a pure productivity point of view this may well be true. However the Kansas State study is more concerned with our well being. While productivity may be a little down, the employees might feel better, be less prone to burn out or other stress related conditions.

This could lead to a more sustainable way of working, beyond smartphone breaks. It could well apply to any similar micro breaks that we take. So the next time you see someone taking the scenic route to the water cooler or checking their phone, don’t judge them. Try it yourself, you will probably feel better at the end of the day. 

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