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How to manage personal cell phone use in the workplace

“Like many offices, we have had problems with employees using cell phones for personal calls, texts, etc. during business hours,” says Beverly Bragg, administrator at San Antonio Preventive & Diagnostic Medicine.

It hasn’t been an easy problem to resolve.

“Although we’ve talked about this issue on a routine basis at our monthly staff meetings, employees continued to use their cell phones for non-emergent reasons during the workday,” Bragg tells Medical Office Manager.

And so Bragg decided to take a different approach.

“At our June staff meeting, I asked for volunteers from different areas of the office to form a committee to discuss our current cell phone policy and to come up with changes to this policy that would apply to the entire office staff, including management,” she says.

The committee jumped at the chance to solve the problem. Committee members not only met to discuss the situation and come up with ideas, they also talked to their fellow employees to find out their concerns about not being able to use their cell phones during the day. The committee took everything into consideration and presented their policy to the entire staff. According to the policy, cell phones are to be put away during the day. If an employee needs to use their phone for an emergency, they are to inform their immediate supervisor and step away from their desk to use the phone.  “The committee agreed that our progressive discipline policy was effective and should be used in regard to cell phone use. However, they added an additional aspect to the policy for those employees who have been given a verbal reminder, as well as a written reminder,” Bragg says.

Employees with prior offenses who are caught using their phones during business hours without permission are suspended and sent home, based on the time of day the offense occurs. Bragg explains: “If an employee is caught on their phone at 10:00 a.m., they will be counseled, sent home and told not to report for work until 10:00 a.m. the next day. If an employee is caught on their phone at 3:00 in the afternoon, the employee will be counseled, sent home for the remainder of the day and all of the next day, and will report to work when their shift begins the following day.”

And here’s the real repercussion. Employees who are sent home are not paid for missed time. Also, no float coverage is available for those employees who are sent home, which means the employee’s fellow staff members from their assigned stations are responsible for providing coverage to the physician who is short a staff member.

So, how have staff members responded to the change?

“This policy has led to a more responsible approach to cell phone use by our employees,” Bragg tells Medical Office Manager. “Employees are now more inclined to ask for permission if they really need to use their cell phone for a family emergency, etc., because they do not want to lose pay, nor do they want to be the reason their team members are short staffed.”

And Bragg is no longer the lone cell phone police officer. “The policy has also led to better communication and personal responsibility between employees. Employees who were once reluctant to tell a coworker to put away their cell phone now have no problem telling a coworker to do so,” she says.

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