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How Much Time Are Your Employees Wasting on Their Phones?

Dock Treece
Dock Treece

Of course your staffers are using their personal phones during the workday – but what can you do about it?

  • Employees are often distracted at work, which reduces productivity and can even lead to life-threatening mishaps.
  • Staffers often use their personal cell phones during the workday to check email and browse social media.
  • Managers can encourage productivity by offering flexible work schedules, break areas for phone usage, and quiet areas to concentrate on work, among other methods. 
  • This article is for small business owners and managers who want to reduce cell phone usage in the workplace.

While their time cards might say they are putting in a full day, many employees aren’t devoting all of their time in the office to their work. Many are distracted by their mobile devices, spending hours each day texting, shopping or scrolling on social media. So, what can you do about it? 

Employees wasting time using cell phones at work

A recent survey performed by Screen Education showed that employees waste, on average, more than two hours per day using their phones. That’s more than 2 hours where work for your business isn’t getting done. And it isn’t just productivity at stake – 14% of respondents said workers distracted by mobile devices had caused workplace accidents, many of which resulted in injury or even death.

A 2017 study by Robert Half Talent Solutions and OfficeTeam uncovered just what it is staffers are doing on their phones instead of their workplace responsibilities: Most are using their mobile device to check their personal email, while an additional 28% surveyed admitted to perusing social networks. Sports or entertainment sites, mobile games and online shopping are among the other things workers admitted they use their mobile devices for on the clock.  

Given people’s attachment to their phones, it’s hardly surprising that these devices are such a common source of distraction at work. “It’s understandable that employees may occasionally use their mobile devices or attend to personal tasks during business hours,” said Brandi Britton, executive director for Robert Half’s contract finance and accounting group, in a statement when the survey was released. “But these activities can easily become big distractions.”


Even if your company provides mobile devices for employee use, you might allow some personal activities on the device, such as discussing child care. Always set clear ground rules for permissible use.

Employees use their mobile devices in a number of unproductive ways while at work. Here are the most common ways smartphones distract employees:

Accessing restricted content

Employees use their mobile devices to get around roadblocks employers have in place on laptops to keep their staff focused on work. In fact, 58% of respondents in the Robert Half survey said they often use their personal devices at work to access websites that are blocked by their company, up from just 22% who did so in 2012. Managers underestimate the prevalence of this activity: Only 39% suspected employees used their mobile devices to access restricted content.

More than half of the employees surveyed said their company blocks them from visiting at least some websites in the office. The research found that 39% of employers block social media sites, 30% entertainment sites, 27% block online shopping sites and 23% bar sports websites.

Completing personal tasks

Restricted content isn’t the only distraction. Employees admitted to spending 42 minutes a day – on average – on personal tasks. When added with the time they spend perusing blocked content, employees are wasting nearly eight hours, or close to one full day a week, on non-work-related tasks.

Britton recommended employees better manage their time so they aren’t wasting valuable working hours.

“To best manage their time, staff can take advantage of breaks during lunch and throughout the day to catch up on non-work email or errands,” she said. 


Entirely prohibiting employees’ use of cell phones isn’t always an effective way to eliminate the distractions that kill workplace productivity. Incentivize your staff to remain engaged with their work by limiting distractions and creating growth opportunities for high performers.

How to reduce employee phone usage in the office

Some of the methods for reducing general workplace distractions are just as applicable to getting employees off their phone. Here are a few tips to keep your staffers focused on their responsibilities instead of their mobile devices:

  • Offer flexible schedules. Flexible work schedules and the option of remote work can help employees who are struggling to create a work-life balance. By providing flexibility, employees can take care of personal tasks during their off hours so they can stay focused on assignments while on the clock. 
  • Designate go-to spots. Establish quiet spaces in the office and offer time-management workshops. Workers may be less tempted to look at their phones if they’re able to work in a peaceful environment. 
  • Provide break rooms. Encourage your employees to turn off their non-work-related notifications when they are in the office so they aren’t reminded of what’s waiting for them later. You can also set up short break times when your staff can use their phones. 
  • Use monitoring software. The best employee monitoring software can track productivity – and let your employees know you’re doing so. If they’re aware you’re able to see, for example, how long their computer is sitting idle, they may be less likely to ditch the keyboard and mouse for their phone. [Learn about the laws and ethics of employee monitoring.]
  • Provide regular feedback. Establish performance plans for underperforming employees. Include specific information about time wasted on mobile devices or accessing blocked content, as well as any incidents that stem from distractions on the job.

Encouraging your employees to be productive

With easy access to texts, social media and clickbait content, it’s no surprise that personnel can waste time on their phones. While it can be tempting to simply ban employee phones in the workplace, these are just one of the many distractions employees face. Consequently, it’s important for good managers to do what they can to reduce distractions and help employees be productive to achieve their workplace goals. 

Chad Brooks and Adam Uzialko contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

Image Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock
Dock Treece
Dock Treece
Contributing Writer
Dock David Treece is a contributor who has written extensively about business finance, including SBA loans and alternative lending. He previously worked as a financial advisor and registered investment advisor, as well as served on the FINRA Small Firm Advisory Board. He previously held FINRA Series 7, 24, 27, and 66 licenses.