Want hard-working staff? Ban smartphones

Keeping staff from checking their smartphones just one night a week can improve productivity, says a new study. Photo / Thinkstock
Keeping staff from checking their smartphones just one night a week can improve productivity, says a new study. Photo / Thinkstock

They can be seen on the bus or train, anxiously tapping their mobile to check for email and messages.

Even in the evening and at weekends, the urge to glance at the smartphone can be irresistible. Indeed, many of us sleep with our phone by our bedside.

But research has found that imposing a ban on staff from checking their BlackBerrys, iPhones or any device just one evening a week can lead to improvements in happiness and performance at work.

The study, by Harvard Business School, involved management consultants being banned from monitoring their work after 6pm once a week. Called 'PTO' - predictable time off - the experiment was carried out on 1,400 employees of the Boston Consulting Group over three years.

Professor Leslie Perlow was inspired to carry out the study after she found that 26 per cent of employees out of a sample of 1,600 managers and professionals slept with BlackBerries or iPhones by their bedsides.

Initially, managers at BCG were wary of the experiment and warned it would be halted immediately if 'there was the slightest concern about the quality of BCG's work'. Some 'workaholic' consultants resisted PTO, while other teams only partially embraced it.

But those who had regular 'downtime' said they found they had greater job satisfaction and were more likely to stay for a long-term career at the firm.

They also said they found their work-life balance improved, and they became more productive.

Over three years, 59 per cent of those who embraced PTO agreed with the statement 'I am excited to start work in the morning' compared with 27 per cent of those who dismissed PTO.

Asked if they 'feel satisfied' with their jobs, 78 per cent of those who had just one evening off a week said yes, compared with 67 per cent of those who partly accepted it, and 49 per cent of those who rejected it. The study found that those who turned their phones off spent more time with their families and started making future plans for their social lives instead of endlessly cancelling them or not even bothering.

Professor Perlow said: 'We defined as "on" the time people spent working plus all the additional time they were available, monitoring their work in case something came up. What caught our attention was that the more people were "on", the more unpredictable their work seemed to become.

'By being constantly connected to work, they seemed to be reinforcing - and worse, amplifying - the very pressures that caused them to need to be available.'

She said that by making one night a week sacrosanct, it helped to break the cycle.

- DAILY MAIL

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