RETAIL | Managing mobile phone use on the shop floor

Trying to limit the use of mobile phones in the workplace can feel like you're fighting a losing battle.

And while most reasonable employers will want to exercise some degree of flexibility in how they treat their staff, employees reaching for their phones every five minutes can have a real impact on productivity.

The real cost to retailers

Whereas in the past work and home life were two very distinct domains, the fact that there’s now an app for everything and greater connectivity than ever before means that our personal life often seeps into work time.

While some experts advocate that mobile phones are conducive to productivity – enabling employees to make notes, create reminders and keep in touch with co-workers – studies have suggested that the mere presence of a handset is distracting.

The sad truth is that, left unchecked, one or two hours of your employees’ day may be wasted on their phones, which inevitably costs your business money. Not only that, but employees being glued to their screens is also likely to have a knock-on effect on customer service quality.

When employees in customer-facing roles (or even just those out on the shop floor in customers’ eyeline) are seen using their mobile phones, not only does this signal to the customer that staff are disinterested and disengaged, but being forced to wait to pay for an item or having to ask for assistance can be frustrating. For retailers, this can make all the difference between keeping a loyal customer and losing them – and having them share their bad experience with others.

Less obvious perhaps is the potential health and safety risks that distracted employees pose to themselves, colleagues and customers. By not paying full attention to their surroundings, staff are more prone to slips and trips and may not notice dangerous situations emerging. It may also leave them and your business vulnerable to opportunist theft.

So how can employers combat excessive mobile phone use at work?

As an employer, you are within your rights to set limits on when and where employees can use their personal mobile phones.

The best way to set out your stall is to create a clear mobile phone policy that outlines your rules and expectations.

For example, you might require employees to switch off their phones (or put them on silent mode) and leave them out of sight while on the shop floor. Calls and texts can then be picked up on rest breaks, with any urgent calls (for example, if a relative has fallen sick) directed to a work number so that messages can be passed on.

Your Employee Handbook

It’s a good idea to include your mobile phone policy within your Employee Handbook alongside your other policies on sickness absence, disciplinary, grievance, social media and dress code. A copy of your handbook should be given to all employees when they start work, with important policies displayed on notice boards in staff areas. This will ensure that all employees are aware of the rules from day one and reminded of them on a regular basis, and should help to prevent issues before they arise.

It’s also considered good practice to ask employees to sign a receipt to confirm that they have read and understood your mobile phone policy. This will prevent employees from arguing at a later date that they weren’t aware of the rules.

Managers and supervisors should set a good example and enforce your policy on mobile phone use in a fair and consistent way. Remember, giving one team member a telling off while letting things slide with another will send out the wrong message to employees. Not only that, but taking different action for the same offence is likely to be viewed by an Employment Tribunal as unfair and potentially discriminatory.

Top tips for managing mobile phone use in the workplace

  • Out of sight, out of mind. Think about where employees should store their phones while at work. Rather than keeping them in their pocket, you may ask that they leave them in a safe place in the staff room. This will reduce the likelihood of employees being distracted by, or tempted to reach for, their phones during working time.
  • Make the shop floor a phone-free zone. Employees may need to make personal calls from time to time; however, you may wish to ask that this is done out of sight of customers in the staff room, back office or outside.
  • Require full focus in meetings. Ask your employees not to bring their phones into meetings so that their full attention is on the agenda.
  • Don’t reach for phones when behind the wheel. For any employees that drive as part of their work duties, make it clear that no calls should be made or received while driving. If employees do need to use their mobile phone, they should pull over in a safe place and turn off the engine first.
  • Consider flexibility. Keep in mind that if employees are expected to respond to work-related messages outside of working hours, then allowing them a minute or two to reply to an important message might be a good example of give and take. While an employee’s home life shouldn’t intrude on their ability to do their job, recognising that people have commitments outside of work and allowing some degree of flexibility is likely to go a long way, creating loyal staff and a situation of mutual respect.

Make light work of HR challenges with our fixed-fee support

At Ellis Whittam, we understand that when running a busy retail business, your time is precious.

Our highly-qualified HR Consultants help thousands of retailers of all shapes and sizes to focus on what’s important by acting as your trusted point of contact for all employee relations issues and ensuring your contracts, policies and procedures are legal and effective. If you’re battling excessive mobile phone use, we can provide straightforward advice and guidance on managing staff, as well as draft your Employee Handbook to keep you on the right track.

For more information and to discuss your specific needs, call 0345 226 3893.