Survey Finds That Smartphones Are an "Alluring Distraction" Zapping Productivity at Work


Workplace productivity is one of those ongoing issues that business leaders never seem to solve, so it's not surprising that they're still struggling to find the cause of why it goes down. 

Well, here's the latest reason ... and would you believe it's texting and cell phones?

According to the latest CareerBuilder research, 1 in 5 employers (19 percent) think workers are productive less than five hours a day. When looking for a culprit, more than half of employers (55 percent) say that workers’ mobile phones/texting are to blame.

"A click away from alluring distractions"

The research found that "more than 8 in 10 workers (83 percent) have smartphones, and 82 percent of those with smartphones keep them within eye contact at work. And while only 10 percent of those with smartphones say it’s decreasing their productivity at work, 2 in 3 (66 percent) say they use it (at least) several times a day while working."

“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,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “The connectivity conundrum isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be managed.”

Well yes, managing workers in all phases of workplace behavior is what managers do — and that includes on-the-job use of cellphones and other technology.

CareerBuilder's HR chief suggests that managers need to "have an open dialogue with employees about tech distractions." Haefener says that it is important that manager's acknowledge the existence of such distractions "and discuss challenges/solutions to keeping productivity up."

Top 10 productivity killers

When asked to name the biggest productivity killers in the workplace, employers cited the following:

  1. Cell phone/texting — 55 percent;
  2. The Internet — 41 percent;
  3. Gossip — 39 percent;
  4. Social media —37 percent;
  5. Co-workers dropping by —27 percent;
  6. Smoke breaks or sneak breaks — 27 percent;
  7. Email — 26 percent;
  8. Meetings — 24 percent;
  9. Noisy co-workers — 20 percent;
  10. Sitting in a cubicle — 9 percent.

Where employees are wasting time

Surprisingly (well, at least to me) is that according to the CareerBuilder research, the majority of workers with smartphones (65 percent) do not have their work emails on their smartphones. Of those who access their smartphone during work for non-work use, they spend their time on these non-work related sites during work. Those include:

  • Personal messaging — 65 percent;
  • Weather — 51 percent;
  • News — 44 percent;
  • Games — 24 percent;
  • Shopping —24 percent;
  • Traffic — 12 percent;
  • Gossip — 7 percent;
  • Sales — 6 percent;
  • Adult — 4 percent;
  • Dating — 3 percent.

What the CareerBuilder research doesn't get into is the context beyond the simple data. To really get a good sense of how much of a problem any of these things are when it comes to productivity, you need to dig into each organization's workplace culture, rules and regulations (the workplace handbook), and tolerance for little bouts of unproductive behavior in order to drive larger breakthroughs that might benefit the company. 

For example, the kind of small and unproductive behaviors that they allow for people working at Google are probably very different than they are in Time Warner Cable's customer call center.

Craziest Non-Work Activities Workers Have Done On the Job

Of course, no CareerBuilder workplace survey would be complete without a list of the most unusual (or memorable) things they have caught an employee doing when they should have been working. Some examples included and employee:

  • Working on a scrapbook.
  • Decorating a cubicle with chains of paper clips.
  • Brought her equipment for her embroidery business from home and was making items for a craft show to sell.
  • Was doing doughnuts in the parking lot in the snow.
  • Brought in a kitten she found outside and tried to keep it quiet within a large purse.
  • Was working on her child's school project that included uncooked macaroni noodles.
  • Was laying on a patient’s bed talking to the patient while the patient sat in her wheelchair
  • Was watching YouTube videos of people shoving marshmallows in their mouth.
  • Was doing some personal grooming in the break room.
  • Was searching on Craigslist for dates.

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,186 hiring and human resource managers and 3,031 workers ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between Feb. 10 and March 17, 2016 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions).


About The Author

John Hollon is Checkster's Vice President for Content. He is an award-winning journalist and nationally-recognized expert on leadership, talent management and smart workforce practices who previously was Vice President of Editorial and the founding editor of Before that, John was Editor of Workforce Management magazine, the longest published HR and talent management publication in the U.S.