Our addiction to smartphones may be contributing to the UK’s flagging productivity levels.
The UK’s Poor Productivity Record
The UK government on Monday unveiled a new industrial strategy to boost Britain’s productivity, which has lagged behind the other major G7 economies. It included ploughing resources into five sectors with significant growth potential: construction, life sciences, automotive, and artificial intelligence.
But it is “cyberslacking” — workers using the internet and mobile tech during working hours for personal reasons — that may be holding the UK back in terms of productivity, suggests new evidence.
“Cyberslacking” On Our Mobiles
We are addicted to our mobile phones. One survey found that we, on average, check our smartphones 150 times each day. Another found that the average smartphone user spends more than two hours each day on their phone.
The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation says that people spend typically one hour of their workday on social media, with millennials spending more than that average on social media. In addition, it can take 25 minutes to recover from interruptions and get back to work.
And there is evidence that distractions can cause further distraction. One study found that workers who are interrupted by external factors are significantly more likely to “self-interrupt” — stop their task at hand and switch to something else.
Digital Distraction Weighs Down Productivity
Such distractions can weigh down productivity, in multiple ways. A survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers by CareerBuilder found that 19% believe employees are productive for fewer than five hours each day. More than half of the employers said smartphones are the biggest source of distraction.
According to CareerBuilder, this lost productivity can cost companies. Nearly half of the employers (48%) said smartphone distraction compromised the quality of employees’ work. Other problems include lower morale because other workers have to pick up the slack (38%), a negative impact on the manager/employee relationship (28%) and missed deadlines (27%).
CareerBuilder says 76% of employers have taken steps to solve this problem, for example by blocking websites (32%); even banning personal mobile phone usage in the office (26%).
“While we need to be connected to devices for work, we’re also a click away from alluring distractions from our personal lives like social media and various other apps,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder.
“The connectivity conundrum isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be managed. Have an open dialogue with employees about tech distractions. Acknowledge their existence and discuss challenges/solutions to keeping productivity up.”
Yet there are wider implications for society beyond productivity. With fears growing of mass job losses because of artificial intelligence and smart robots, which are increasingly capable of a wide range of manual and white-collar tasks, those who are least productive may be at risk.
Millions of jobs are thought be at risk of automation, and those which require heavy data use or analysis are likely to suffer the most. Increasingly important are soft skills such as the human ability to emphasis, which are unlikely to be appropriated by smart machines.