Cell phone policy is important for businesses

April 5, 2013 

"The Four Rules of Life:

1. Show Up 2. Pay Attention 3.Tell the Truth 4. Don't be upset at the results."

-- Joan Borysenko

Personal cell phone use is one of those issues that you must address both operationally and in your employee handbook. It is important you establish a cell phone policy that provides guidelines for use of employee-owned or personal cell phones.

Let me start by saying there are so many different policies on cell phone use, and none is optimal for every business. Some businesses just cannot have employees answering their personal cell phones if they are working (medical staff who is seeing patients, for example); whereas other businesses must allow their staff to use their personal cell phones (as in cases where staff is called at home to do service work).

That said, every firm must determine a cell phone use policy that works for their business and is predicated on its staff, mission and layout.

One firm I was working with had a policy that prohibited personal cell phones in the building, and all staff had to keep their cell phones locked up in their cars. They could check on them only during breaks and at lunch.

To me, this is an onerous policy. For one thing, there are times when emergencies happen and you must allow your staff to answer their calls. Secondly, if a policy is too tough or unrealistic, staff is going to find ways around it no matter the consequences.

Another firm has a policy that allows employees to keep their phones on vibrate if they are expecting an emergency call, so long as they have their manager's approval. Otherwise, personal cell phones must be turned off. The problem with this policy is that, by definition, emergencies are rarely planned.

Many firms argue that personal cell phone use is not necessary as employees are accessible through the company's existing telephone system. This may be true, but it can be a very slow way to reach an employee in the event of an emergency.

Use of personal cell phones is one of those gray areas where you want your staff to feel respected, but you do not want them to take advantage of the system and use company time to respond to non-emergency, personal calls.

Separating personal from business is even more difficult where company cell phones are used. When employees are given use of company cell phones, there just is no way to stop personal calls from happening, but you want to limit them as much as possible.

I think the most important thing when dealing with an issue like this is treating your staff as professionals. Clearly articulate what is accepted practice, expect them to act in a professional manner and then enforce the rules as necessary. The bottom line is that you must set up a cell phone policy that supports your company and its mission.

Where driving while using a cell phone is concerned, businesses must have a very clear policy, whether it relates to personal cell phones or company-issued ones. Distracted driving, or causing an accident while on a cell phone, just should not be tolerated. Even hands-free devices should be prohibited as use of a phone, in general, causes distraction.

Overall, this is such a tough policy to regulate and police. It is also a sensitive topic for younger workers, so you really have to proceed very slowly and carefully. Now go and make sure you have a cell phone policy mapped out for your company.

Jerry S. Osteryoung, director of outreach services at the Jim Moran Institute in the College of Business at FSU, can be reached at 850-294-7477.

or by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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