Marketing Professors Reveal Downside of ‘Boss Phubbing’ in Workplace

Phubbing Is A Harmful Behaviour

The funny side of the communication revolution particularly the use of smartphones today is that more people are tethered to their cellphones. This is the case both at home and even in work places. The downside is that this trend has undermined the value of face-to-face communication. This has a negative impact on employee engagement and performance as well.

In a recent study conducted by researchers from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, “boss phubbing” (boss phone snubbing), the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone, was found to be wreaking havoc on workplace relationships. The researchers found that supervisors who cannot tear themselves away from their smartphones while meeting with employees risk losing their employees’ trust and, ultimately, their engagement.

This new finding was confirmed by James A. Roberts, Ph.D., professor of marketing, and Meredith David, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, who published their study entitled Put Down Your Phone and Listen to Me: How Boss Phubbing Undermines the Psychological Conditions Necessary for Employee Engagement” in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Our research reveals how a behavior as simple as using a cellphone in the workplace can ultimately undermine an employee’s success,” the researchers wrote. “We present evidence that boss phubbing lowers employees’ trust in their supervisors and ultimately leads to lower employee engagement.”

Boss phubbing is defined by the researchers as “an employee’s perception that his or her supervisor is distracted by his or her smartphone when they are talking or in close proximity to each other” and how that activity affects the supervisor-employee relationship.

The Study and Implications

The researchers conducted surveys with 413 respondents who represented both supervisors and employees. They responded to statements that assessed the nature of their work, levels of trust and engagement.

Here are the interesting results!

The study found:

  • 76 percent of those surveyed showed a lack of trust in a supervisor who phubbed them
  • 75 percent showed decreases in psychological meaningfulness, psychological availability and psychological safety
  • The lack of trust and decreases in those key areas led to a 5 percent decrease in employee engagement

Employees who experience boss phubbing and have lower levels of trust for their supervisor are less likely to feel that their work is valuable or conducive to their own professional growth, and employees who work under the supervision of an untrusted, phubbing supervisor tend to have lower confidence in their own ability to carry out their job,” David said. “Both of those things negatively impact engagement.”

Text messaging is the favored means of communication today.

Based on the key findings, the author has outlined the significant managerial implications of the study.

According to Roberts, phubbing is indeed a harmful behavior in the workplace.

Roberts said, “It undermines any corporate culture based on respect for others. Thus, it is crucial that corporations create a culture embodied by care for one another.”

In addition, David said employees and supervisors alike cannot be fully present in face-to-face interactions when distracted by their smartphones.

Developing the self-control to put away your smartphone in favor of meaningful, distraction-free interactions with your supervisor and other coworkers will yield benefits that far outweigh that text message, unread email or social media post,” she said.

Thus, the researchers highlighted the importance of formulating formal smartphone policies by setting clear rules for smartphone use, access and security – and detail specific consequences for violating those rules. It is also helpful to educate supervisors on the negative consequences of phubbing on employee attitudes and engagement.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.