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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Break Room Cell Phones

I have a question regarding the use of cell phones in the employee lunch room. I was recently asked this question by a manager, who I might add is problem manager, but that is another topic. So this is the question she asked

"I keep asking my staff not to use their cell phones in the building and around the lunch tables while other people are there, eating and socializing with others. I often ask them to punch out and take a walk 'downstairs'. I personally don't like being in the break room and listening to people on cell phones. What's your opinion on this please?"

So, Evil Hr Lady, what do you think? I would love to hear your answer.

This is an interesting question. If you had just sent me the question itself, with no other information, this would probably be my response:

Lots of people dislike cell phone talkers. Many restaurants ban them. There are quiet cars on trains. For some reason cell phone conversations grate on peoples nerves more than overhearing both sides of a conversation.

However, are these people being paid while they are in the break room? If not, why do they have to "punch out" to go downstairs? Some breaks are mandatory and I really dislike telling people what they can and cannot do on breaks. (Within reason, of course. No, you can't go get drunk on break because you will have to come back to work in 30 minutes and you will still be drunk.) Making a phone call seems to be a perfectly reasonable use of break time.

I have no problem with having a ban on cell phone usage in a company break room, as long as people aren't punished for going outside to make their calls. Sometimes calls need to be made during business hours, and wouldn't you rather they do it on break then when they are supposed to be working?

However, the question was within context of the asker being a problem manager. I suspect that no one else has any problem with cell phones being used in the break room. There may be problems with particular individuals--Sally, for instance, who has loud conversations with her sister about her fungus problem--but probably not with people making the occasional phone call.

This isn't a cell phone problem. This is a manager problem. She feels like she needs to have control of her people, even when they are on break. Part of me wants to say, "let's have a separate non-management break room" so that people can take breaks without being hovered over. But, I think that contributes to more problems. (Gives you much more of an Us vs. Them thing going on.)

What I would recommend in this situation is that you tell her that you haven't noticed an excessive cell phone problem, but you are willing to put it to a vote. Let the employees all vote on whether cell phones should be allowed in the break room. I have no idea what the outcome would be, by the way. I would vote for cell phones.

But, if cell phones are banned, I think it needs to be clear that people who go somewhere else to make their calls aren't treated differently from the people who stay in the break room and chat with the boss. Which may be another evidence of her need to control.

And just for fun, here's a little Evil HR Lady Poll:


Allyson and Dave said...

But where do you draw the line? Some employees may have company cell phones and they may be on business calls. I have my blackberry with me at all times. But most of the time if I am texting or talking it is work related. But people may not know that. Can you tell some employees they can use the cell phone and others they cannot?

Big Ed said...

Wow, they are only placing personal calls while they are on break. Consider yourself fortunate and move on smartly!

The operators where I work are constantly on their cells. You have to interrupt their personal calls to conduct company business.

I have actually called one of them on their cell because they would not answer the phone in the control room due to their cell phone conversations.

So, it could be a whole lot worse.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to handle the loud, disruptive, offensive, or just otherwise inappropriate conversations. But, that would be the case whether the conversation be cell phone based or face-to-face. Otherwise, I think banning all cell phone usage during a BREAK period is just silly. Who exactly does this benefit & how?

FrauTech said...

Or you end up with the problem where people don't even bother using their cell phones for personal calls, they just make them using the company phone and loudly at their desk.

Anywhere outside their cubicles is fine to me. I can understand the frustration of it during the lunch time rush when the break room is busy and noisy, but all other times it seems reasonable. Then again, asking employees to go down one flight of stairs also seems reasonable. For me I'd be happy if they used their cells and left their desks for personal calls!

Unemployed Gal said...

I agree with Ed and Allyson. Be grateful that your staff is making personal calls on their own time. A coworker at my last job spent most of the day on the phone with her (unemployed) husband. She didn’t even use a cell. She just tied up one of the company phone lines and would not hang up unless the switchboard was bursting with calls.

It sounds like whenever Problem Manager comes to the break room, everyone whips out a cell to avoid talking to her. (And if this is her idea of appropriate behavior, I can’t blame them.) Does this manager expect break time to be some kind of team-building camaraderie happy hour? All who dare to handle personal matters on their own time must be banished from Team Office Fun Room! If this were my manager, I’d take every break “downstairs” to avoid her and start making calls on company time.

Olivia said...

If it's a matter of some folks annoying others, you could just post and/or distribute some short words on cell-phone manners...(please be considerate of others, etc.)
I'd ask the manager what's bugging her about this - and then figure out how to address it (or deal with the manager) from there.

HR Leigh said...

I've always been told never to put things to a vote. Isn't that getting close to the line of company sponsored union activity? In this case, I don't think it even toes the line, but it would if everything like this was put up to vote. Besides I wouldn't waste the employees' or my time on a complaint like this one. At most I would eat in the break room for a few days to see if there really was a problem.

On a similar note, I had a manager once who had a similar issue with their employees and cell phones. They were allowed to have them on silent at their desks, but had to wait until break to make or take calls. This was considered fair because parents were able to receive emergency calls from school, babysitters, etc. He didn't think they should have them at all because one person was abusing the practice. I did point out that he used his phone during the day. His response was he had three kids and a wife who needed to be able to reach him. Seriously! During his rant to me his cell phone went off and he TOOK THE CALL. The look on my face kept him from ever bringing the subject up again.

Aaron said...

Wow. Just wow.

Imagine what happens when you say "no cells in the breakroom". I think where we go next is cell use in the bathroom. Then you are going to start to get complaints that people are using their cell phones in the bathroom.

How is this different than just talking on the phone. You don't need another rule, you need a workforce that is less whiny and capable of solving their own problems, rather than going to HR for petty annoyances.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Aaron. Please, please let people use cell phones in the break room. My office shares a floor with another company that clearly does not allow personal phone calls at the employee's work station or break room.

9 times out of 10 when I enter the bathroom, I get to hear about a fight with a boyfriend, what club the girl is going to that night, or who is picking up her kid. I might be old-fashioned at my ripe old age of 33, but I'm not comfortable doing my business with 3 phone conversations going on around me. And what is the person on the other end thinking with all the flushing going on?

I think the manager in question needs to stay out of the breakroom and let their employees handle their own break time.

Anonymous said...

The cell use in the bathroom is ridiculous to say the least. Our company does not have the "no cell in the breakroom" policy, but it seems some managers are enforcing it and the rest of us have to suffer.

Anonymous said...

I don't make personal calls while I'm working, but I do occasionally have to make calls during work hours. If I had to clock out and go stand in the snow to do that, you can bet that I would just revert to making those calls while at my desk.

Why do managers bother with silly rules like this? Why not just look at whether the employees are getting their work done or not and respond accordingly?

Anonymous said...

Breakrooms are breakrooms. I wouldn't make personal phone calls in front of other people though.

I just wish my coworker at my last job had her personal calls on her break. It was not fun to see her get paid to run her life and to get screamed at for prioritizing calls from patients (who had heart problems) over chit chat calls on the main line from her adult children who were older than me by 5 -7 years. She once freaked out on me for putting a chit chat call on hold when the fire alarm rang. We were the last office on the highest floor. So yes, definitely leave people alone during their break.

Anonymous said...

I choose 'Yes' instead of 'Depends' because a break room should be designed to handle people having breaks in there.

I think the key words from the problem manager are "socializing with others". Other people are talking in the break room. If regular conversation is OK there is no reason not to allow cell phones in there.

Anonymous said...

Also, Allyson and Dave make a good point. Seems hypocritical to require some employees to use a cell phone and then act like cell phone use is inherently bad or rude.

Kerouac said...

Wow. I have to wonder if some of you are actually the union steward instead of an HR professional.

There are a lot of things you should not do in the break room because it adversely affects others. Why should employees get a pass on rude behavior in the work place just because they are off the clock?

You want to allow disruptive behavior because you're worried morale might go down among the rude employees? Are you kidding me?

Aaron said...

We *really* need to get over this "talking on a cell phone" thing. What's next, specific rules preventing farting in the breakroom? Do we need a specific rule for everything?

This isn't kindergarten. Stop treating employees like they are. If you are an HR person, and you are seriously considering a cell phone rule, or worse, made one, please hand over your badge, you are not good enough to work in said profession.

I seriously expect the next post to be someone writing because they want a rule to prevent people picking their nose in public.

Meg Dunn said...

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Love this one, too:

Anonymous said...

Meg, that's just lame. word verification: ressess

Anonymous said...

Meg Dunn, a pithy or enlighting comment would have made me want to read your blog. Shameless self promotion does not.

Kerouac said...

Aaron, if an employee jumps up on the table, squats, and farts repeatedly in front of other employees, I guess I expect you to applaud.

Employees go to the break room for a break... Not to listen to a coworker fighting with her boyfriend, chiding his kids for not cleaning their rooms, or talking to a girlfriend about how wasted she was last night. Expecting people to be considerate is not tantamount to treating them like kindergartners.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we need to go back to having telephone booths - except you provide your own phone.

Or a cone of silence, perhaps.

Unemployed Gal said...

Soundproof cubicles would be a dream. If we build terrariums with separate air supplies, we won’t have to smell our coworkers either. No more gallons of perfume or sauerkraut lunch platters. That’s much more offensive than cell phone chatter.

Anonymous said...

wow, some people just need to grow up. thankfully there are no cell phone rules at my work so we can talk on them whenever we want. of course we don't use them much because we can use the work phone for personal calls.

Anonymous said...

Really? Tell this to the guy who was taking an interview call in the break room! :)

KellyK said...

@Kerouac: There's a difference between banning cell phone calls outright and expecting people to be polite.

Checking on your kids or refilling a prescription or scheduling a doctor's appointment are all totally reasonable uses of "break time," and it's totally possible to have a cell phone conversation quietly and discreetly.

Instead of banning a huge category of behavior that can be either rude or polite, how about talking to individuals about specific problems? I'd rather see a manager ask Loud Hal to either keep it down or have his conversations elsewhere than see everyone in the company punished for his behavior by having to go outside to make a quick call.

Anonymous said...

@Kerouac: Cell phone use is not inherently rude. Just because someone is using a cell phone does not mean that they *must* be loud or having an inappropriate conversation.

The only difference between the person on the cell phone and the two people having a conversation in person is that you can only hear one half of the cell phone conversation. As long as the person on the phone isn't louder than the people who are talking to each other it shouldn't be a problem.

Anonymous said...

The only issue I see that hasn't already been brought up is if you're in a secured building with a lot of confidential information floating around. Under those circumstances, I can see a policy of not allowing the use of personal communication devices within the "secure" area (I've worked places where we also weren't allowed cameras), which may or may not include the break room. (In reality, I've never worked in such a place that actually did a good enough job with data security that cell phone use in the breakroom was the security hole that they most needed to plug, but I'm willing to accept it as a reasonable part of such a plan.)

Akanksha Yadav said...

If curbing the cell phone menace and disruptive owners from phone business was the issue, maybe limiting the calls in a break hour would do. Or maybe altogether putting a ban on the usage of phone could work out.

However I have seen people who make use of Company phones that come for free in all time highs at mornings and evenings. No stares or grunts work out then and they surely can turn to be a quiet neighbour to an annoying telecaller across the desk. Few forget that inaudible sound from the other end means the caller needs to shift location for better signal, than they screaming at the top of their lungs.

Prohibition is definitely not an answer, perhaps one needs to get sensitive to work surroundings and restrain on speech and emotion.

Cell Phone Lookup said...

I am all for cell phone conversations not being held in a break room. Many times these rooms are very small and serve as a quiet place to get away and relax. Listening to someone's - what should be - private conversation is not the best of things.