Bosses set to take smartphones away from workers

obese smartphone use

Posting updates on social media and texting your friends at work could soon become a thing of the past as bosses confiscate smartphones to keep noses to the grindstone.

Unions are warning that “a new front for friction” between workers and organisations is opening as managers feel that they cannot trust people to resist the temptation to post updates.

While it is normal for retailers such as Tesco to make their employees put their phones in lockers, the practice is now spreading to office workers.

A director of a marketing company in West Yorkshire recently ruled out recruiting candidates who would not hand over their mobile devices. Gerard O’Shaughnessy, of Business Marketing Services in Cleckheaton, said that he felt so aggrieved by people using phones during working hours that he confiscated them until lunchtime.

A similar policy operates among café staff at the British Library, who have to surrender their phones to their supervisor in case they are tempted to look at them between serving customers.

Nannies are also increasingly being presented with mobile phone clauses in their contracts that prohibit “unauthorised use during working hours”.

Mr O’Shaughnessy, 48, said that his company began confiscating its workers’ mobile phones two months ago. “We’ve had girls have complete meltdowns when they’ve come to work and been told they need to put their phone in a box. Others have said it’s almost breaching their human rights. It’s almost like a separation anxiety.

“When we didn’t have this policy in place people would be checking social media updates during staff meetings. They’re utterly addicted to their phones. Every customer I deal with tells me exactly the same happens in their organisation with younger staff.”

Strict mobile phone policies have alarmed organisations such as Prospect, the union for clerical workers that represents some staff at the British Library. Mike Clancy, its general secretary, said that technology was becoming “a new front for friction between workers and organisations”.

He said: “Rigid controls over phone use, where no clear security and safety issues are involved, risks being rigid worker control, reflecting a culture that lacks trust. Used in the right way tech has the power to be both empowering and to improve services and productivity. But we can’t let employers have total control over when, where, and how tech is used at work.”

A British Library spokesman said that it was talking to its catering contractor Graysons about its mobile phone policy after a letter of complaint to The Guardian by Anita Prazmowska, professor of international history at the London School of Economics. “As well as investigating this specific event we will meet with the contractor to review their mobile phone policy,” it said.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: “Employers should treat staff like adults. That means negotiating sensible policies with unions on mobile phone use. Good employers allow discretion for personal use, as long as it doesn’t interfere with work. Where it’s agreed that keeping a phone on you is not appropriate, lockers should be provided for staff. Confiscating personal belongings is bad for trust and morale.”