cellphone incentives for employees

Should I Offer Incentives to Employees Willing to Put Away Their Phones?

The Hartford

From text messages to Facebook updates, there’s no denying that we as a generation have become dependent on our cell phones to provide us with an instant dose of entertainment. Still, there are times when the fine line between “diversion” and “distraction” can become a little blurry, particularly in the work environment. So, how do you as a small business owner determine if your office’s cell phone usage is decreasing productivity and whether it’s time to curb your employees’ screen time with some financial incentives? In this episode, Gene Marks and Elizabeth Larkin discuss the effectiveness of paying your employees to stay off their cell phones.

Executive Summary

2:14—Today’s Topic: Should I Offer a Higher Pay Rate to Keep My Employees From Using Their Cell Phones?

4:10—So long as an employee’s cell phone activity isn’t interfering with your business’s productivity, there is really no need to micromanage their usage.

4:22—Business owners should keep in mind that there are certain job responsibilities that require an employee’s undivided attention, such as customer service. In these instances, any cell phone usage would be inappropriate and would give your customers the wrong impression.

6:06—If you think excessive cell phone activity is impacting your staff’s safety or ability to accomplish their work, then drawing up a formal cell phone policy is more than reasonable.

8:26—Paying your employees not to use their cell phones is redundant because it compensates them for something they should already be doing.

11:02—Gene encourages small business owners to embrace all the new AI (artificial intelligence) tools that their software vendors are developing, because these applications will ultimately save their businesses a lot of time and money in the future.


Submit Your Question


Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. I’m Elizabeth Larkin from The Hartford and I’m here with Gene Marks, who is a small business owner, he owns The Marks Group, a speaker, and a columnist.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: And our small business expert.

Gene: Yes. And not a bad softball player.

Elizabeth: Not a bad softball player.

Gene: Believe it or not I still play a lot of softball, even at my age.

Elizabeth: So, today’s question is actually about the most popular article we have on Small Biz Ahead and the article is called, “What to Do When an Employee Spends Too Much Time on Their Cell Phone.”

Gene: This is the most popular article?

Elizabeth: This is the most popular article.

Gene: Wow, that’s so fascinating. Okay, cool.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: That’s very interesting.

Elizabeth: I mean it is right now, sometimes it isn’t but…

Gene: Yeah, yeah, but even so that’s just a high interest among people-

Elizabeth: Very high interest.

Gene: …people spending. So spending too much time on your cell phone. So meaning that you have employees that are just yakking away on their cell phones, personally I guess, to their friends and family or whoever?

Elizabeth: I don’t know but we’re going to get into it-

Gene: All right fine.

Elizabeth: … after we hear from our sponsor.

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QUESTION: Should I Offer Incentives to Employees Who Are Willing to Put Their Phones Away at Work?

Elizabeth: Okay. Today’s question comes from Lee. He didn’t tell us where he’s from or what kind of business he runs.

Gene: Let’s say he’s from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Elizabeth: Okay. He’s from Ann Arbor, I was just in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Gene: Were you really? I just picked that completely out of the hat. Did you see Lee?

Elizabeth: I did, yeah. We went to a Michigan football game.

Gene: You went together, that’s right?

Elizabeth: No, I actually saw Michigan beat Rutgers football like 52 to nothing or something and I won $20 on it. So I was pretty happy about that.

Gene: That’s good.

Elizabeth: I didn’t go to Michigan. I have no connection to the school at all. I just happened to go to the game. But anyway, so here is Lee’s question, “I’m wondering, if offering higher wages to those willing to put cell phones away during work hours would be a good option?”

Gene: It’s a terrible option, Lee. It’s a terrible option. That’s like a-

Elizabeth: It’s an interesting thought,though.

Gene: It’s like a precedent that you do not want to set. Let’s back up a little bit and talk about this whole cell phone usage in the office. And you’re right. We’ll put a link into the show notes for the article.

Elizabeth: This article, we’ve got an infographic, we’ve got a lot of info for our readers.

Gene: Check out the article. It kind of blows you away from a whole bunch of different sorts of data on this infographic, 55% of distractions in the workplace are caused by cell phones? And then when you, what do you think? Do you know this, how well do you know this article? Can you name me the top four reasons why people use their cell phones in the office? It’s not that hard.

Elizabeth: Communicate with their family.

Gene: Yeah. Communicate like messaging.

Elizabeth: Yeah, they’re bored and they want to play a game.

Gene: Games is number four.

Elizabeth: Oh, I feel like we’re on Family Fued.

Gene: Yeah. You’ve got two more.

Elizabeth: Checking the weather?

Gene: Checking the weather is number two.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: I can’t believe that.

Elizabeth: And-

Gene: All you have to do is look outside.

Elizabeth: Email?

Gene: Well, reading the news.

Elizabeth: Okay. Reading the news.

Gene: Is number three. Reading all the news stories that I write is…

Elizabeth: Yeah, definitely.

Gene: Okay, so people are on their cell phones all the time. People have their-

Elizabeth: You know, I have people that work for me. I expect people to pull their cell phone out a couple times a day. But I’m assuming, I’m not a small business owner. I’m not paying their, I’m not signing their paycheck. I’m assuming if you’re a small business owner and you own a retail store or a restaurant, and you see your employees on their phone, that must make you insane.

Gene: Yeah, I would agree. So first of all, from my personal experience of course, for anybody that’s, if you’ve listened to the show before, you know that my, we don’t have offices, where everybody’s remote in my company and we’re sort of a virtual company and-

Elizabeth: Your employees are all on their cell phones right now.

Gene: All the time. Yeah, for all I know. And you know what? I don’t care. They can be on their cell phones 24/7 for all I care. They could be playing games. As long as they get their jobs done and their work done. They’re big people. I’m not going to sit there and monitor how long or not they’re going to be on their cell phone. However, I think a job requirement, depending on your business, may entail not being on your cell phone and-

Elizabeth: Yeah. Let’s put yourself in the shoes of like, you own a diner.

Gene: Yeah, or a retail store-

Elizabeth: Gene’s Diner.

Gene: Right, or it’s a retail store. I’ll tell you this, you walk into a shop and the sales person there is on their cell phone. I don’t know. There’s something off-putting to a customer. You’re the customer walking in and you’re like, “Hey man, pay attention to me. I’m the customer. Get off your phone.” You know what I mean? And sometimes I see that. I’ll see people even like it’s Gene’s Diner, I’ll see like, you’re a waiter or a server, they’ll be on their cell phone and obviously sometimes people have to do that. I don’t know, they have a sick child or something and they need to check in or whatever. But when it gets to a certain level, where it’s interfering with their jobs, that’s when you step in. So Lee is like, “Hey man, you know like should I, should I pay them more to stay off of their cell phones?” Which just seems crazy to me.

Elizabeth: I think if it’s an issue for you, it should be part of the employment contract, like if there are customers around. And you’re right, it depends on the business. But again, let’s use the example of Gene’s Diner. If there’s no one in Gene’s Diner, sure, check the weather.

Gene: If it interferes with your job, you shouldn’t be on the cell phone.

Elizabeth: If you’re not going and taking an order because you’re on your cell phone.

Gene: Correct, or it just generally if you’re in a retail environment and there are customers walking around and you’re just sitting there clinking away, tapping away on your cell phone instead of helping them, or being ready for them to answer any question, that’s a problem as well.

Elizabeth: So-

Gene: But you don’t pay them to stay off their cell phone. That’s just you know, come on, Lee!

Elizabeth: It’s a condition of employment, I think in a lot- So how would you handle this? Let’s say you were starting Gene’s Diner and you were afraid people, would you have a cell phone policy in your employee handbook?

Gene: Yeah, so a lot of companies, first of all, have policies for cell phone usage and for all I know The Hartford has probably got a policy somewhere as well, and the big companies do that. So if you think that it’s an issue in your company, it is by all means reasonable to have a written policy about it as to what you think the appropriate use of cell phones should be.

Now I have some clients where they have no customer facing at all. You know, when you go to their headquarters, they’re manufacturing stuff, they have customer service, they have whatever. And I don’t know, to me like, people there want to be on their cell phones, as long as it’s not a safety issue and they’re getting their jobs done, that’s fine. To me, my pet peeve is how we’re perceived with our customers. And if I was running a customer facing business, like a retail shop or a restaurant, something like that, I would have much more stringent cellph… Well, where do you draw that line on some like-?

Elizabeth: I don’t know. And you have a lot of clients who are manufacturers. Doesn’t it drive them nuts to see their employees on their cell phones and not working?

Gene: No, because it’s not a matter of not working. It’s a matter of getting their job done. If they are on their cell phones and not doing their job, then that’s an issue that’s way and above just using a cell phone. It means you’re not doing your job. So if there’s no difference, you can be on your cell phone or taking a break in the coffee room.

Elizabeth: So cell phone usage doesn’t bother them more than taking a break in the coffee room?

Gene: It does not. The only time it bothers them or would be an issue is if it’s a safety thing. So, if you’ve got somebody that’s overseeing a machine and they’re on their cell phone while the machine is running, that’s like a big no no.

Elizabeth: It’s like driving and texting.

Gene: Yeah, it’s like driv… It’s exactly right. But meanwhile, if you got somebody that’s, I don’t know they’re customer service, but they’re on their cell phone, tapping away messaging, but somehow they’re still getting their job done, then, I personally don’t think…you got to draw a line here.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, listen, as you and I talked about this time and time before about the age of the workforce and the millennials are taking…all that kind of stuff, smartphones are a part of our bodies now. They’re like an extension, and they’re a part of life and part of society and I don’t think we can ignore…I don’t think a business owner is in any place to dictate when and how and how often you should be using your cell phone. As long as it just does not get in the way of the job. But paying them not to use it. That’s saying like, “Elizabeth, I’m going to pay you extra for every day that you don’t use profanity in the office.” So where does it stop? You know what I mean? You know, you can think of all these different things, as long as you don’t do this. Okay. Don’t talk about, “If you don’t talk about the Mets for a week, I’m going to give you extra money.”

Elizabeth: Done. Done.

Gene: You know what I mean? Right there. So it’s just that it’s a slippery road to go down.

Elizabeth: Okay. So have this in your employee handbook, I think is our best advice. And have realistic rules around this, but paying people more… It’s like, “I’ll pay you more if you come into work late like on time everyday this week.”

Gene: Yeah. Yeah.

Elizabeth: It’s a slippery slope.

Gene: It’s encouraging behavior that they should already be doing. It’s just part of the job… And again, have that policy be as stringent as you want it to be if using a cell phone is going to interfere with the safety of your employees or the customer experience that you’re trying to offer.

Elizabeth: And guess what? We have on Small Biz Ahead a cell phone policy checklist.

Gene: Wow! Perfect.

Elizabeth: So we are going to tell you exactly what to put into your employee handbook and exactly…and this checklist that you can download and use at your small businesses.

Gene: Fantastic, and you know what? If you want, you can actually read the checklist right on your cell phone.

Elizabeth: Exactly. You can. The other thing is that we’re going to link to this article. There are so many comments on this article. This is a big issue for small business owners.

Gene: Yeah, God!

Elizabeth: And there’s a lot of conversation around this.

Gene: I got to jump in.

Elizabeth: I’m surprised you haven’t yet. I’m surprised you haven’t jumped in and offended people.

Gene: I’ve got plenty of offensive things to say.

Elizabeth: Okay, so we’re going to link to this in the show notes. I think you’re going to enjoy this article. I know you’re going to enjoy the download because it’s going to make your life a lot easier. And we actually got this question from someone in the comments.

Gene: Oh, I see. Okay, fair enough.

Elizabeth: So please join the conversation on that. Go to smallbizahead.com and search for “employees on their cell phone too much.”

Gene: Very cool.

Elizabeth: So, when we come back, Gene is going to share his word of brilliance.

Gene: I do have a word of brilliance.

WORD OF BRILLIANCE: Artificial Intelligence

Elizabeth: And we’re back.

Gene: Wow! I have two words again. It’s never just one word, is it?

Elizabeth: It’s never. Well, you did use breakfast a couple of-

Gene: Yeah, that’s true. That was one word. Okay, here’s my two words and my two words are artificial intelligence.

Elizabeth: I think you’ve done this one before.

Gene: Have I?

Elizabeth: Well you’ve talked about artificial intel… I’m sure it’s not the same thing…

Gene: Yeah, I’m going to talk about it now because it keeps getting asked. And it’s a big issue as we head into 2020 and 2021, a lot of business owners are hearing a lot more about artificial intelligence. And I’m getting more and more of my clients come up to me saying like, “Yeah, this artificial intelligence thing, should I be doing anything? Should I be hiring a developer to…”

Elizabeth: Artificially intelligent something?

Gene: Yeah, is there something I should be now… So I want to be clear about what artificial intelligence is, what it means, and what you as a small business owner need to be doing about it. What it is, artificial intelligence, it is a programming way for computers to get things done without humans being involved. And I know we’ve talked about my experiences with chatbots before, which uses artificial intelligence where I could be texting back and forth with-

Elizabeth: You love chatbots.

Gene: CVS pharmacy. I think I gave that example many episodes ago, and I’m talking to a computer and it’s able to read the stuff that I’m saying and then respond back to me. That’s using artificial intelligence. Okay? So it’s just a way for computers to talk back to each other and to us and to our customers without any humans being involved. That’s what it is. So, that’s what it is. What do you as a small business owner need to do about it? Well, let me tell you, you do nothing about it because it is going to be done-

Elizabeth: That’s great.

Gene: It’s going to be done for you.

Elizabeth: It’s so nice when we can tell listeners you don’t have to worry about this.

Gene: Sit back, you don’t even have to worry about this… But you do have a responsibility. And the responsibility is this. Your software companies, whether you use QuickBooks or Xero or CRM software, there’s a whole bunch of them that are out there, great ones, whatever.

Trust me when I tell you that all of these vendors are building artificial intelligence into their applications so that QuickBooks will have the ability to reach out to your customers that are slow paying and to have literal conversations with them without a collection manager being involved about when they’re going to pay.

Elizabeth: “Why haven’t you paid yet? What are what you doing?”

Gene: Right. Correct. That is all, not only, it’s coming and some of it is actually here. There are other examples in both customer relationship management and accounting applications where we’ll be using this sort of automation to do stuff without humans being involved. You don’t have to be doing anything. You don’t have to be writing anything. You don’t have to be investing in developers. You don’t have to be spending money on anything like that. What you need to do, though, is that when your software vendor introduces this stuff, embrace it. So if you’re a, I use QuickBooks as an example, you’re a QuickBooks user and they say to you, in our next version we’re going to have these new AI tools that will help you do things faster, like collect money or process inventory or payroll or whatever.

Don’t run away; don’t get frightened; embrace it. Learn how that stuff is used and then put it into action because I can promise you, your competitors are going to be doing that and this stuff, it will save you time and it will save you payroll dollars, and cut overhead if you use it really well. So don’t do anything about it, but embrace it when it comes your way.

Elizabeth: I love that advice.

Gene: Thank you.

Elizabeth: Because we’re always telling people to do more of something. It’s really nice when we can say, “Yeah, just sit back and someone else will-

Gene: Yeah. “You don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to worry about it.” It’s coming-

Elizabeth: “Someone else will deal this.”

Gene: Yes. Somebody else is dealing with it. They’re going to, they’re spending the money, they’re writing all this stuff. It’s all coming and a lot of it’s already here, but you just don’t run away from it, though. Embrace it. Learn it.

Elizabeth: Okay, so I have an announcement.

Gene: Okay.

Elizabeth: That is not going to be a surprise to Gene. But it’s very sad for me.

Gene: Oh no. Is this the announcement I think is going to come?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: What’s that announcement?

Elizabeth: This is going to be my last episode hosting Small Biz Ahead podcast.

Gene: Elizabeth, I didn’t want you to tell the public about this. We’re going to lose all of our listeners now.

Elizabeth: Oh no, there’s going to be a new host coming in. His name is Jon. His actual name is, his full name is Jon Aidukonis. So we just call him Jon A around office. He’s great. He and Gene, I’m sure will have a lot of fun…

Gene: I’m looking forward to it.

Elizabeth: Bantering and, but the first episode, I hope Gene does tear up a little bit without me.

Gene: I will miss you very much. You’ve been a fantastic partner on these podcasts, you been a lot of fun.

Elizabeth: I will miss you, too, it’s been great working with you and I love the interaction we have with small business owners and the listeners and people sending in questions. And I hope that we helped in some small way over the past, we’ve been doing this for like, three years now.

Gene: Yeah. A hundred plus episodes.

Elizabeth: We have almost 200 episodes.

Gene: 200 episodes. Wow! That’s amazing.

Elizabeth: Yeah. You could probably drive the entire length of the eastern or western seaboard of the United States of America and listen to Gene and I.

Gene: And then drive right into the ocean.

Elizabeth: Be like, this is it, I can’t take this anymore!

Gene: Like Thelma and Louise. Right off a cliff.

Elizabeth: So yeah. So this has been such a wonderful part of my job here and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I have a new opportunity and you’ll have Jon soon. Next episode.

Gene: We want to all thank you Elizabeth. It’s been great. It has been great. You are irreplaceable.

Elizabeth: Ah, thank you. Yes, it’ll be a little different with how Jon here, might mix up the format a little bit. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure it will. So it’s like we’ve got podcast 1.0, Jon’s going to start Small Biz Ahead podcast 2.0.

Gene: Jon’s a marketing guy.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: So there will definitely be…

Elizabeth: Coming in 2020 to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, everywhere you get your podcast.

Gene: Where you get your podcast.

Elizabeth: So, in the meantime, please leave us a review. Please comment on this article. Please read the article about cell phones in the office. I think it’ll be really interesting for everyone and maybe you figured this out and you could give really good advice to another small business owner.

Gene: Agreed.

Elizabeth: Better advice than Gene gave, who knows?

Gene: Oh, never. Never.

Elizabeth: All right. Stay tuned for the next episode and thank you very much for listening.

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One Response to "Should I Offer Incentives to Employees Willing to Put Away Their Phones?"
    • Natalia | February 5, 2020 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Elizabeth and Gene, as our cell phones evolve our policies haven’t, they are outdated. Yes customer facing positions are impacted by this but also think of the backend… “if there is time to lean” so if there are no customers at Gene’s diner the employee should be sweeping, moping, wrapping utensils, etc., not scrolling on Instagram because that’s what we pay them for.

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