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Are You Addicted To Your Phone? Can You Blame It On Your Employer?

06 Dec 15:00 by James Roberts

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How often do you check your phone a day? Most people tell researchers it averages between 20 and 30 times. Yet what shocks people is that when their mobile phone usage is actually monitored, the number is more like 85 times a day.

Sally Andrews of Nottingham Trent University was one of the first researchers to measure phone usage, not by asking users themselves, but by using technology to monitor when the screen switched on and off.

“It was a bit of a shocker for some to be told that they were using their phones for up to half of a working day,” says Dr Andrews. “Our subjects didn’t really believe it.”

She says increasing smartphone use is in part down to a blending of the boundaries between working and private lives as some companies now expect employees to be at the end of a text or e-mail 24/7, throwing the traditional nine to five out the window.  At the same time, individuals are now beginning to think that it is perfectly acceptable to check their social media messages in the office.

Dr Andrews’ study monitored people over the course of 14 days, both day and night, and for each subject they created a “barcode” plotting usage.

Drilling into the data in more depth, the team showed that the average amount of time spent on the phone was more than five hours. Over half the incidences of using the phone were less than 30 seconds in distraction, suggesting subconscious checking for new messages or reacting to notifications.

So should mobile usage in the workplace be discouraged? The jury is out on whether using a smartphone boosts or saps productivity.

The connectivity conundrum

Research carried out by Frost & Sullivan and paid for by smartphone manufacturer Samsung of 500 executives found that respondents believed they gained an hour in both work and personal time from using smartphones. The research claimed that productivity among these executives had increased by 34 per cent.

By contrast, a survey of 2,186 human resource professionals for CareerBuilder in early-2016 found that one in five believed their workers were productive for less than five hours a day. Some 55 per cent of employers said employee mobile phone use was the culprit.

Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, says: “While we need to be connected to devices for work, we’re also a click away from alluring distractions from our personal lives like social media and various other apps. The connectivity conundrum isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be managed. Have an open dialogue with employees about tech distractions. Acknowledge their existence and discuss challenges and solutions to keeping productivity up.”

In some of the most recent research into this area, Cary Stothart and colleagues at Florida State University found that just receiving notifications was detrimental. The team asked participants in a study to carry out an attention-demanding computer task. Some of these were interrupted by a mobile phone call, some with a text and some were not disturbed.

The authors of the research paper say: “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. Cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.”

With people checking their phones 85 times a day on average, the obvious question to ask is whether we are addicted to them.

‘Screenage’ junkies

Telecoms regulator Ofcom carries out research into device and internet usage every year in its Communications Market Report.

“Our love affair with the web isn’t always plain surfing and many people admit to feeling hooked”

In an indication of what we might expect in years to come, younger people are revealed as spending far more time on their smartphones (five hours a day) than the average two hours. This age group is also better at multitasking, such as sending messages while simultaneously watching television, cramming in 13 hours and 11 minutes of media and communications activity into 8 hours and 56 minutes of actual time on their devices. The “screenager” generation is certainly growing up.

Ofcom’s research shows that mobile phones are increasingly encroaching on our working lives with most saying they have increased the flexibility of working life, but no doubt meaning that is harder than ever to switch off.

The 2016 Ofcom report says adult users in the UK are spending an average of one day a week online. Three out of five internet users admitted they considered themselves hooked on their device while just over a third said they found it hard to disconnect.

Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s director of market intelligence, says: “The internet has revolutionised our lives for the better. But our love affair with the web isn’t always plain surfing and many people admit to feeling hooked.

“So millions of us are taking a fresh look at the role of technology in our lives and going on a digital detox to get a better tech-life balance.”

Original Article written by Mark Frary, Raconteur