Research shows so-called ‘phubbing’ can negatively impact perceived communication quality — and, when employed by bosses, kill workers’ engagement and enthusiasm
Being too connected can send the wrong message.
So-called “phubbing” — aka snubbing someone in a social situation by staying glued to your phone — is linked to the other person negatively perceiving the quality of that interaction and finding the relationship less satisfying, according to a new study from the U.K.’s University of Kent.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, had 153 participants watch a three-minute animation of two people having a conversation, and asked them to imagine they were one of the people depicted; the conversation partner would either not phub, partially phub or extensively phub. Afterward, study participants completed questionnaires on several measures. The researchers found that “increased phubbing significantly and negatively affected perceived communication quality and relationship satisfaction.”
This phubbing, the authors argue, is a form of social exclusion that threatens people’s fundamental needs — i.e., their need for meaningful existence, control, belonging and high self-esteem.
Phone snubbing can also send bad vibes at work: A survey of 413 workers conducted by researchers at Baylor University last year found that bosses who are distracted by their smartphones while interacting with their employees could be turning workers off. Indeed, these smartphone-fixated bosses “risk losing their employees’ trust and, ultimately, their engagement,” according to a summary of the report.
Three in four (76%) workers who thought their boss snubbed them for a smartphone said they had less trust in their supervisor, and 75% found their work to be less psychologically meaningful, among other factors.
Taken together, this led to a 5% decrease in employee engagement — a big problem for bosses, as employees who are less engaged may mess with the company’s bottom line. In fact, research carried out by Gallup in 2013 found that engaged workplace teams were 22% more profitable than those that were disengaged, and experienced lower staffing turnover. Other analyses show that employees who aren’t engaged are more likely to call in sick.
“When we see our boss as unavailable, that really undermines our perception that we can get our job done,” Baylor University professor of marketing James Roberts, who conducted the research, told Moneyish. Workers who get snubbed for a smartphone feel undervalued and underappreciated, which, in turn, causes them to feel detached from work, disengaged and disheartened about the importance of their contributions.
Even worse, smartphone-addicted bosses are increasingly common, Roberts told Moneyish. So how can frazzled managers who are used to doing a thousand different things while speaking to their employees rectify these managerial mistakes?
First, follow this rule: “When someone comes into the office, that should be time for undivided attention — [it’s] a matter of silencing your technology,” he said. Here are a few other things companies and bosses can do to ensure the smartphone isn’t getting in the way of the employee-boss relationship:
- Have employees give their supervisors anonymous feedback and reviews of performance. This gives workers a chance to vocalize their frustrations if they feel their a boss routinely ignores or dismiss them.
- Create an environment where employees at all levels don’t feel forced to immediately answer emails and messages in most cases.
- Organize training on why face-to-face meetings matter, and to teach workers about the negative consequences of phone snubbing.
This article was originally published Dec. 16, 2017, and updated with new research.
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