When cellphones become a problem in the workplace

Q: The issue of employee cellphones is driving me crazy. I manage a small medical clinic with 15 staff members who interact with patients all day. Initially, I trusted them to use good judgment about personal calls, but that didn't work. Next, I asked them not to carry cellphones unless they were expecting an important call. Suddenly, every call became "important." Because these constant interruptions are unacceptable in a medical facility, I recently announced that cellphones must be kept in employees' lockers except during breaks and lunch. Now I'm getting so many complaints that I'm tempted to ban the phones altogether.

A: Actually, phone calls are probably just the tip of this iceberg. Since most people now have smartphones, employees are undoubtedly being distracted by texts, instant messages and various social networking sites as well. While this multitasking may pose no problem in some work settings, in others it can be dangerous or even deadly. For that reason, cellphone policies should be tailored to the needs of each specific workplace. In your case, requiring medical staffers to stash their phones during office hours is a perfectly sensible requirement. However, banning them from the building would not be reasonable, since that would cut people off from their families.

In case of emergency, you do need to ensure that these phone-deprived folks can be easily reached, so provide a clinic number that will always be answered by an actual person. No frightened child or distraught parent should ever have to deal with a lengthy phone menu ending in a voice-mail message.

Job applicants faced questioning by staff

Q: After our manager screened several applicants for a vacant position, she had the staff talk with the two finalists to see if they "matched the personality of the office." While interviewing these women, my co-workers asked some questions that seemed very inappropriate.

Here are three examples:

• "Which Disney princess do you identify with and why?"

• "If I had something stuck between my teeth, would you tell me?"

• "If you found out that a co-worker was having sex with a manager, what would you do?"

Not only was I embarrassed by these questions, but I also don't believe they will help to determine whether someone fits into our group. Do you agree?

A: Just when I think I've heard everything, someone tells me a story like this. You are, of course, absolutely correct to be appalled by these tasteless inquiries. The first two questions are just silly, while the third is highly offensive. And none of them has anything to do with the job.

Unfortunately for your department, this ridiculous interview may actually have the unintended consequence of driving desirable applicants away. Many sensible people will want no part of an office where sex between colleagues is a common topic and people use cartoon characters to assess personality.

New boss hard to reach for questions

Q: I was recently hired as the executive assistant to a company president. On my second day, he gave me a project to do, then took off the afternoon to play golf. I had questions about this assignment, so I called his cellphone and sent an email, but got no response.

Two days later, the president left a note instructing me to send some information "to all our managers." Being new, I wasn't sure who should be included on this list, so I tried to reach him. Again, he did not reply.

Now, when I have questions, I'm not sure whether to use my own judgment or continue trying to get in touch with him. I don't want him to think I'm incapable of making decisions, but I've learned over the years that assumptions can be dangerous. How should I handle this?

A: Since executive assistants are typically expected to be mind readers, learning to anticipate the preferences of your new boss is obviously a top priority. So instead of making risky guesses or stalking him on the golf course, try to establish a routine for getting the information you need.

For example: "Since I'm still learning about the company, I wondered if we might touch base every morning to discuss the day's events. That way, I can get answers to my questions up front and avoid interrupting you later on. I've always been a fast learner, so we should only have to do this for a few weeks."

As you settle into your job, the need for these daily chats will lessen and eventually disappear. Once you are more familiar with the company culture and your boss' habits, you should be able to accurately predict which decisions you can safely make on your own.

When cellphones become a problem in the workplace 05/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 7:09pm]

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