Though it may seem counterintuitive, giving employees time to play around on their smartphones every day could actually benefit businesses, new research suggests.
Even though it might seem like smartphones would hamper workplace productivity — thanks to their ability to make telephone calls, surf the Internet and play games — they might not be the costly distraction companies think they are, according to a study by two members of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
"Having workers take small breaks on their phones throughout the day may positively influence their perceived well-being at the end of the workday," said Sooyeol Kim, one of the study's authors and a doctoral student at Kansas State University.
To better understand what effects smartphone usage had on employees, researchers surveyed 72 workers from various industries in South Korea. They also downloaded a specially designed app to their smartphone that measured the time spent during the workday on their phone and also separated the phone usage into three categories: social media, entertainment and leisure, and personal and informative.
They found a positive relationship between using smartphones to take short breaks for things like texting friends and how employees felt at the end of the workday.
The results also revealed that on days when employees used their smartphones more for social media use, they reported feeling better than when using their phones for entertainment or personal reasons.
"We buy smartphones so we can interact with people," Kim said. "We use them for social interaction, so I think that's why social media was shown to make employees the most happy."
Kim believes the study shows that it can be beneficial for organizations to know the different types of apps and which ones make employees most happy.
"This information tells us what factors are related to happy employees," he said. "If they are happy with social activities and employers know that, they may want to use the phone for those purposes during microbreaks in the future."
Kim acknowledged that too much time spent using social media during the day may be harmful to an employee's productivity.
"I'm interested in knowing how microbreak activities can facilitate both well-being and work engagement," he said.
The research found that the average combined minutes of usage a worker has on their smartphone during the workday is about 20 minutes. Kim said that, for the most part, anywhere between 20 and 25 minutes doesn't affect productivity and is good for the employee.
The study, co-authored by George Mason University doctoral student Qikun Niu, will be presented this May at the 29th annual SIOP Conference in Honolulu.