“Now that technology and social media have become pervasive presences in our lives, they’ve become the new ‘smoke break.’”
The other day, I was speaking to my bank-teller friend “Ashley” who was frustrated by her company’s views on “Social Media Usage.” She has one colleague in particular who gets upset when Ashley replies to a text or checks social media during downtime at work. Her colleague reprimands her for checking Instagram even when they don’t have customers to serve at that time.
Meanwhile, this same colleague takes fifteen-minute smoke breaks at least twice a day despite the number of customers at the bank. To Ashley, this seems a bit hypocritical. She explained, “So, I’m doing something that is not harmful physically, and is not really a waste of time, as nothing else is going on in the office when I’m on social media for two minutes, yet smoking—which is harmful to your health and eats up valuable work time—is acceptable. How is that fair?”
Ashley’s right — it’s not fair. Granted, I will be the first to say that there are plenty of Millennial workers who check their social media too often at work, or who answer calls and texts at inappropriate times. However, many Millennial employees feel it is okay to fill a lull at work by checking their social media, which some managers and colleagues accept while others do not. Furthermore, there has always been downtime, and smoke breaks have long been an acceptable form of breaks—regardless of whether they occurred during lulls.
Now that technology and social media have become pervasive presences in our lives, they’ve become the new “smoke break.” Trust me, your employees are likely just experiencing a slow moment on the job. Especially with the efficiency of technologically savvy young workers, there may be numerous moments throughout the day when a young employee is between tasks. This is a learning opportunity for managers. Studies have shown that mental breaks throughout the workday allow employees to increase productivity in certain situations (read the study here).
Today our phones house everything from our work email accounts to our favorite social media apps to our weather and news source. In Ashley’s case, when she isn’t seeing a customer, she has time that could be filled with any sort of unrelated actions. Ashley could as easily be trying to contact a babysitter for her children or checking the weather as she could be checking personal social media accounts. However, when organizations have situations where workers need to limit their personal cell phone use, it is critical to educate them on why. For example, in a healthcare setting, every time a nurse checks her phone, that distracts her from providing the highest level of quality care possible. The quality of care she provides is vital to her patients, so it’s important to ensure your staff stays focused these company and industry-specific realities.
Ultimately, when your employees check their phone, take the time to consider what their workday might look like and what kind of breaks most benefit their productivity. There may be something going on at home that is distracting your employee, and if they were to just text the sitter or check their personal email they could focus more on their job. Moreover, some people work in bursts and others work slow and steady throughout the day, but everyone takes breaks. It’s important that managers establish what type of breaks are acceptable and are not, and also explain to employees why they cannot take certain types of breaks within a work environment, whether that be a smoke break or a smartphone break.