Texting in the Workplace: Establishing a Company Policy
In the past, the use of cell phones – for any purpose, not just for texting – was expressly forbidden by many employers. However, as our reliance on these mobile devices continues to increase, this kind of blanket policy is no longer tenable for most companies.
According to the recent TIME Mobility poll:
“Americans ages 18-29 send and receive an average of nearly 88 text messages per day, compared to 17 phone calls. The numbers change as we get older, with the overall frequency of all communication declining, but even in the 65 and over group, daily texting still edges calling 4.7 to 3.8.”
Indeed, given the frequency of these messages and the number of different ways they’re utilized – including everything from personal chats to text-based check-ins with children – outright bans seem woefully antiquated. In addition, these “zero tolerance” policies can actually prevent companies from harnessing the power of text messaging when it comes to improving both productivity and accountability.
To see how powerful these beneficial uses can be, consider that text messages average a whopping 95% open rate – compared to 20% or less when the same information is sent via email message, according to research published by Business Wire magazine. If you’re a manager who has important information to share with employees, sending it out using text messages can be a much better way to ensure that your content is seen by your workers.
A few other possible positive uses for text messaging on the job could include:
- Notifying employees of shift and schedule changes.
- Sending information in situations where the audible ring of a telephone would be a distraction.
- Relaying information to employees who are off-the-clock in a non-intrusive way.
That said, accepting our increased usage of mobile devices doesn’t have to mean giving your employees a free-for-all pass to text all day, every day. What is important, though, is that your company implements a concrete texting policy that can be enforced across all employees, at all levels of your organizations. Without this type of guiding documentation, you risk coming across as inconsistent with your employees – ultimately undermining your attempts to manage texting in the workplace.
So what, exactly, should go into your company’s on-the-clock texting policy? Take all of the following factors into consideration…
Think safety first
Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” company texting policy that can be implemented across all organizations. Every company is unique – as are all of the employees and management team members working within the business. As such, it’s important that any policy you create reflects both your company’s environment and your employment expectations.
However, there are a few instances where texting on the job represents a safety hazard that should be managed with a total ban. A few examples of these work environments include:
- Production employees working on the floor of a manufacturing plant.
- Any employees who drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery as their primary responsibility.
- Situations in which full attention is required to perform job duties effectively (as in the case of lab workers handling toxic chemicals or ER doctors working the operating room floor).
Carefully evaluate all of the different job responsibilities within your organization first in order to determine where texting might constitute a true safety hazard. Once you’ve accounted for these roles in your policy with a full texting ban (at least, while dangerous duties are being performed), develop texting policies for your remaining employees that are consistent with your company’s culture.
Understand your environment
When it comes to managing on-the-job texting through a company policy, you have three primary options:
- An outright ban on texting and personal device usage while on the job.
- A totally permissive, “anything goes” policy that encourages employees to moderate their own behavior.
- A “middle of the road” policy that limits texting in some instances, while allowing it in others (for example, while on break or out of company meetings).
In all cases, the policy type that’s right for your company will vary based on your own unique environment. To see why policies can – and should – vary, consider the following examples:
Jane works in an office that utilizes the “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) approach to task management (that is, employees can work whenever and however they like, as long as certain performance objectives are met). Because employees are generally given the freedom to regulate themselves, Jane’s manager has no problem allowing texting at any point throughout the day – in accordance with the company’s culture.
John, on the other hand, works as the manager in a restaurant that employs local college students as waiters and bartenders. While the majority of his employees handle their duties responsibly, he’s had a few instances of waiters texting on the floor while they should be serving customers. Because this looks unprofessional and represents a potential safety hazard to both patrons and employees, John decides to limit personal device usage – including both calls and texts – to approved break times only.
Clearly, if Jane’s company were to institute a “no texting” policy, it would be disingenuous to the office’s established principles. At the same time, for John to implement the no holds barred approach that Jane can use effectively could lead to server injuries and an unprofessional image. In each case, it’s important to understand how a texting policy will work within the context of the overall organization before creating any new policies that will affect your employees.
If you’re able to take all of these different considerations into account and come up with a workable policy on your first attempt, that’s great! But if your organization has never attempted to regulate mobile device usage, be aware that you may encounter stumbling blocks that require you to rework your texting policy a few times in order to get things right. Don’t be afraid to make changes as needed – just be sure to keep your employees well informed on both your expectations and the overall benefit to your organization of your new texting policy.
Does your company currently have a texting policy in place? If so, share your recommendations on how you’ve managed employee cell phone usage in the comments section below:Texting in the Workplace: Establishing a Company Policy by Chad Halvorson