The Way Your Boss Uses Their Phone Affects You

March 31st 2017

Being too attached to your phone can have a negative impact on other people.

As ATTN: reported in 2015, phubbing — or “phone snubbing” — can create conflict in a relationship and cause depressive feelings. In a romantic relationship, phubbing a person can make them feel that a phone is a bigger priority than them thus leading to lower satisfaction in the relationship.

When you pair this with the potentially addictive quality of phones, it can become a problem. 

Where else can phubbing be problematic? At work.

Recent research by Dr. James Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of "Too Much Of A Good Thing: Are You Addicted To Your Smartphone?," seeks to illuminate just how bad phubbing can be for offices.

He conducted two studies to see if work phubbing had the same effect as getting phubbed in a relationship and the results of both illustrated that phenomenon was responsible for lowering overall morale in the workplace. 

And there was a chief culprit whose phubbing created the most issues: the boss.

When a boss phubs an employee, employees feel devalued.

Dr. Roberts shared his findings, which will be published in the near future, with ATTN: that suggest the relationship between supervisors and subordinate employees can be jeopardized by phone usage. Dr. Roberts has explored the subject before, sharing the dangers of boss phubbing with CNN in 2015. The new study further illustrates why phubbing at work can ultimately be harmful.

“When you’re getting half the attention from your really didn’t believe that you could really trust them, that they had your best interests in mind,” Dr. Roberts explained. 

A boss who phubs leads to less engaged employees.

The trickle down effect from a phone-in-a-meeting to discouraged-thoughts-in-a-cubicle is clear. 

“[The employee's] job satisfaction went down—and we know that’s critical,” Dr. Roberts added. “Lower job satisfaction, lower performance.”

Phubbed employees are also less absorbed in their work. According to Dr. Roberts, these employees are less likely to work late or be a team player because they are less engaged with the job.

This is a very nuanced problem, though.

Young workers must be aware of their phone usage because it can harm how their boss views them. This might be difficult for millennials and Generation Z.

“They’re digital natives,” Dr. Roberts said. “They haven’t been in the workplace and they don’t understand that it’s different from interacting with friends and it has to be a little bit more on a professional level.”

This lack of perceived professionalism can make you look like a poor employee. “[A supervisor] won’t see you as someone who is focused on the job,” Dr. Roberts explained, noting that an employee may appear “not very respectful” and “that you’re not paying attention to your work.”

The result is the same mistrust but with a more dire consequence: you could get fired or undermine your potential for advancement or raises.

How do you fix phubbing at work?

The obvious solution is regulating phone use at the office. The difficulty with that plan is that phones are intertwined in both our personal and professional lives.

“You don’t want to ban them but you don’t want to let people run scot-free or wild with their technology use,” Dr. Roberts said. “When people have uncontrolled or unsupervised use of technology, they’re probably going to waste two out of eight hours on non-work related activities.”

However, Robert's biggest takeaway centered on leadership. "It’s particularly important that companies train their supervisors to be very careful in how they use their smartphones," Dr. Roberts explained. "Our study tells us that, if they don’t, it undermines employee engagement and productivity which —of course — is everything to a firm’s success.”

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