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Employees, Your Boss's Smartphone is Really Bumming You Out

Trying to have a conversation with a significant other who drifts off into their smartphone is bad enough, but a new study finds it's equally as bad when the smartphone addict is our boss!


Um, did you just say something? Yes, you did, but your boss didn't hear it because he or she was too busy "phubbing." Phubbing? It's a word coined from "phone" and "snubbing," and it turns out the average phubbing boss can be almost as pitiful as the parents immersed in their smartphones as their children attempt to talk to them over lunch at a fast-casual restaurant! Paying attention is a conscious decision we make to signal to somebody else that they are worth our time, respect and momentary dedication. Otherwise, we look like this.


Dr. James Roberts, a professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of Too Much Of A Good Thing: Are You Addicted To Your Smartphone?, has been exploring the impact of managerial phubbing on employees. He is finding that managerial phubbing can have the same devaluing impact on employees as it does on somebody who is a romantic relationship with a smartphone addict! According to a terrific piece on

However, Robert's biggest takeaway centered on leadership. "It's particularly important that companies train their supervisors to be very careful in how they use their smartphones," Dr. Roberts explained. "Our study tells us that, if they don't, it undermines employee engagement and productivity which —of course — is everything to a firm's success."

So listen up, leaders. Put the damn phone down and listen to your employees. They are getting tired of sitting alone, together, and it is hurting their attitude and productivity that you are not truly paying attention.

Hello, Is It Me You're Looking For?
I remember sitting with a relative at a boisterous family reunion a few years ago. We were having a nice conversation (for about a minute) when she started drifting off into her smartphone more and more, sending text after text after text as I tried to keep the conversation alive. "Uh, huh," she would respond as her fingers flew across the phone's keypad. I got the message, and stopped talking. I gazed at the pretty scenery for a few minutes as I sipped my coffee. My relative and I were alone, together.

It was clear she was no longer paying attention as she held multiple texting conversations, so you know what I did? I got up and left the table without saying a word (she wouldn't have heard me, anyway). I was soon enjoying a conversation with another relative who knows to put their smartphone away when engaged in conversation. (These wonderful people are getting harder to find, unfortunately.)

Of course, this strategy won't work with your manager. So, what can you do? It's not like you can ask them to put their smartphone away and pay attention to you, or belt it out like Adele.


The best thing you can do is to understand that you are not the only employee in the world interfacing with this highly-annoying communication problem. Unfortunately, it's everywhere. You are not the only employee who is getting scraps of attention from the boss thanks to our societal smartphone addiction that we cannot seem to control when it matters most.

The workplace is also rapidly changing as Generation "what did people do without smartphones?" Z enters the workforce. Millennial and Gen X managers will need to enforce much-needed phone boundaries in meetings, one-on-ones, and other important conversations. "Boundaries" means "Let's silence our phones and pay attention for 15 minutes." No really! We can do this! 3, 2, 1 phones down!

Leaders set the tone here, and must consciously make the decision to put their phones face down on the table (or in their pockets) to signal to employees that what they have to say is important. Don't worry, boss; your buzzing phone will still be there when they finish talking.


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