The Oscars®, March Madness and Work: How Does an Employer Manage Distracted Working

March 8, 2017

By James Shrimp

As most of you know, at the Oscars® Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong movie for the Best Picture Award.  In the initial hours after the show, many held Warren Beatty accountable (including me), because he clearly recognized something was wrong with the card – but showed the card to Faye Dunaway to read anyway.  However, in the days that followed, it became clear that multitasking was the blame.

Specifically, a Price Waterhouse Coopers’ partner who was responsible for providing the correct envelope to the presenters, decided to send a tweet in the moments before handing the Best Picture Award card to Warren Beatty.  This PwC partner was guilty of TWW (Tweeting While Working).  As a result of his TWW, the partner provided the wrong envelope to Mr. Beatty and chaos ensued.

Similarly, next week, millions of workers in the United States will be guilty of MMWW (watching March Madness While Working).  As a result of MMWW, work productivity will be lost and mistakes will be made on March 16 and 17.  In addition, FWW (Facebook While Working), SCWW (SnapChat While Working) and many other distractions are becoming endemic in the US workplace.

In fact, even in government, TWP (Tweeting While President), although entertaining at times, is a strain of distracted working at the paramount level.

A millennial will be quick to say, engaging in TWW, MMWW, FWW or SCWW is no big deal because humans can multitask.  Unfortunately, that is not true.  Numerous studies have found that the human brain does not multitask, instead, the brain cycles back-and-forth between the different tasks and as a result the brain’s output drops during multitasking and it leads to quicker brain fatigue – and mistakes.

In this world of 140 characters where distractions are all around, what can an employer do to minimize the effect of distracted working in its workplace.  Short of engaging a supervisor for every employee, or installing a cell signal dampener in the office, there is no way to completely eliminate distracted working.  However, there are a few things that can be implemented to discourage excess distracted working.

  • Adopt a Cell Phone/Tablet Usage Policy – In this policy, the employer will explicitly restrict the usage of cell phones at the work station, except in emergency situations. For this to be effective, however, it must be enforced.  This policy is distinct from a social media policy which governs the content of social media postings.
    • Notably, the PwC partner at the Oscars® asked for permission to tweet during the show. The partner’s request was denied and he was told not to tweet during the show.  But, he did it anyway.
  • Don’t Provide WiFi – Unless your computer system operates on WiFi, do not provide a system that is “open” to your employees. If they are going to be a distracted worker, at least make them pay for the data.  This may curtail usage, although unlimited data plans may limit the effectiveness of this idea.
  • Restrict Access on Work Computers – On the desktop or laptop computers at work, an employer can and should limit access to social media websites. In addition, the employee should be clearly advised, that anything entered or typed on the work computer is the property of the employer and there is no expectation of privacy.
  • Safety/Training Programs – For employers that have employees who operate machinery, drive (or hand out envelopes), periodic safety and training programs that incorporate cell phone best practices is crucial. In workplaces where machines are operated, having a policy of keeping the phone in a locker is completely acceptable; or if driving, to have the phone in the glove compartment.
  • Keep Your Employees Busy and Interested – Employees are more apt to become distracted if they are bored or not interested in their work. Boredom is the employers fault – lack of interest is perhaps an employee issue.

If you have any questions, please contact James Shrimp at 610-275-0700 or via email at jshrimp@highswartz.com.

The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

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