Smartphones are increasingly versatile, often taking on many of the qualities and features that our computers offer us. Not to mention the innovations we see year-on-year. As such, they are quickly becoming more integrated with our professional lives – exceeding the singular use of a communication device. However, with this integration and innovation, we’re seeing an increase in how important smartphones are to our working lives. So the question has to be asked: how do we separate the two, and how much do smartphones impact on our ‘work-life’ balance.

Our Research

To better understand how individuals utilise their smartphones in relation to their professional occupation, we conducted a survey of over 300 workers, examining their use of smartphones at work and their overall work-life balance.

4/5 professionals use their smartphone for work
Less than half of workers feel that they have a healthy work-life balance
76% of people identify their smartphone as an ‘important’ element of their work.

Our survey revealed that 80% of individuals use their phone in relation to work – whether this is frequently or irregularly – demonstrating quite clearly how important smartphones have becoming our working lives. But, of course, the explicit benefits of utilising our smartphones in this capacity are numerous; ever-evolving devices allow us to access and edit work documents from a remote location, communicate with our professional contacts without restriction and additionally provide us with an amendable digital calendar. But what is it exactly that keeps working individuals glued to their smartphone?

In an effort to further investigate this, we looked to identify the most prominent functions that prompted individuals to utilise their smartphone for professional purposes. We found that 33.22% of respondents did so for text messages, 26% frequently accessed their emails, and 25% use their device primarily for calls – demonstrating a stark correlation between communication and professionalism. Somewhat surprisingly, only 4% of respondents most used their device for booking appointments or other such organisational tools – in fact, more individuals claimed that access to social media platforms was of more importance than this! This might indicate that the use of smartphones in the workplace is more vital in day-to-day tasks for those in a tertiary occupation, and less so for those in more manual or traditional sectors. But our digital preferences are not contained to our contracted working hours alone, indeed 3 out of 4 individuals admitted to checking their smartphone for work purposes whilst enjoying their free time – demonstrating the temptation to blur the professional with the personal.

More research on this subject

The Positives

Evidently, many individuals find their smartphones to be a notably useful tool when it comes to their occupation. In fact, utilising a mobile device can enhance your productivity by providing:

Further communication opportunities

With over 80% of respondents highlighting the benefit of communication features, this has undoubtedly become a prominent advantage of professional smartphone use. Our devices allow us to connect with others no matter the situation – so whether you’re in bed, on the train, or perhaps even at the gym, you can efficiently use your time to make progress with your professional communications.

Alternatively, the enhanced communication options of a smartphone ensure that if something of great urgency were to occur, you would be able to reach those involved to help find a solution.

Remote working capability

Advancements within smartphone technology have made it so individuals may access, and work on, documents away from their desktop – which can be of particular use if your job requires frequent mobility. Having a device that can run applications such as Word, Excel or Powerpoint means that you can make progress as and when you need to outside the office. 

Activity/Screentime tracking features

Features such as screentime and activity tracking applications allow individuals to autonomously assess how they are spending time on their smartphone. As a result, they can tangibly measure the time allocated to work-based activities. However, our data demonstrated that perhaps this tracking functionality is not yet fully appreciated as 52% of respondents are not using it – whether this is down to a lack of desire or lack of knowledge is unclear. Furthermore, of those who do use a tracking application, 21.2% identified that they were not deterred from working outside of contracted hours.

The Negatives

Although having remote access to our working documents, professional contacts and daily calendar can be of benefit to us, it’s important to recognise the corresponding risks and concerns. When opting to use your phone in this capacity, it’s vital to ensure:

You do not become distracted at work

Whilst using your phone at work can be beneficial, it is important to not take advantage of your employer’s trust by frequently using it for social use. However, this has been found to be a difficult temptation to resist. In fact, a study conducted by researchers from Hokkaido University discovered that the mere presence of a smartphone can have a severe impact on our cognitive performance.

So, although smartphones can be a brilliant tool for working outside of the physical office, or out of hours, it can noticeably decrease our productivity – and this isn’t too difficult to believe. With the various notifications that light up our screens or ringtones that pull our focus, it can be all-too-easy to disengage from the project at hand.

A healthy work-life balance is maintained

Unfortunately, less than half of our survey respondents claimed to have a ‘healthy’ work-life balance – implying that often the line between the professional and personal becomes blurred and causes our work-life balance to evolve into a work-life conflict. In more extreme cases, this can later affect an individual’s mental wellbeing.

Mind, a leading UK mental health organisation, has identified that a poor work-life balance can lead to individuals experiencing increasing feelings of stress, which, when significant can lead to the development of mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression. 

There is no overwhelming pressure to communicate outside of work

Indisputably, having access to the communication means at all times is advantageous at times, however, it can also cause individuals to feel as though they must respond. So rather than enjoy their downtime outside of working hours, they feel obliged to continue any ongoing communications. 

As you would expect, this can lead to feelings of exhaustion, stress and anxiety that can later have a knock-on effect on mental wellbeing and productivity.

Striking the Right Balance

There are a number of actions that both employees and employers can take in order to create a more balanced and sustainable working environment.

Recognise that constant connectivity does not equate to increased productivity

What is becoming evident to many employers is that although their employees are constantly connected, their productivity might not be enhanced. Therefore, it is vital the employers encourage healthy measures that allow staff to disconnect from work outside of working hours.

A simple way of doing so is by sending a short email to any ongoing communication chains that directly address any period of absence. By informing those involved, the individual will not feel as though they must make progress with any projects whilst on their own time.

Not only does this allow them to take a well-deserved break, but it also ensures that they return to work with a fresh outlook.

Employers can structure an in-office smartphone policy that regulates their use

This doesn’t mean that managerial staff should enforce an absolute ban on smartphones, as that would likely do more harm than good, but some guidelines for employees to refer to can address any particularly noteworthy issues.

Should these measures fail, it is equally as important to consider purchasing a separate phone that is solely used for professional purposes. This means that when you’re having downtime on the weekends, or weekday evenings, you can put that device to one side and not be worried by any incoming notifications. 

Create an open dialogue to discuss these matters

This might seem like a difficult task, but by establishing a trusted and open dialogue between employer and employee, a company may identify solutions that it may not have otherwise. Both parties can offer their own unique insight based on their working experience and therefore see a collective benefit.

This will hopefully increase job satisfaction and productivity.

What the Experts Say

We spoke to Neil Shah, Chief De-stressing Officer at the Stress Management Society, to understand the impact smartphones can have on stress levels, and how this relates to achieving a better work-life balance.

“Smartphone technology in the modern-day has evolved into something that poses a danger to every individual’s mental wellbeing – however, the blame does not lie with the devices themselves, but instead in the ways we use them. Too often we are consumed by virtual experience – whether this is in our use of professional applications, social media, or in our access to information on a wide scale – and as such, feel an overwhelming sense of stress. Every individual must recognise that they hold the control within this dynamic and utilise that ‘off’ button on the side of their smartphone. In a way, we must disconnect with technology so that we can connect with our reality – focussing on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.’’

Neil Shah

Stress Management Society

Always Online Infographic

In our latest infographic, we look at how smartphones have become integral to everyday working life, assessing the positives for productive as well as some of the negative aspects.