Businesses are now facing a new and different type of potential pandemic

Just when we thought the horrific COVID-19 pandemic was winding down, another malady has surfaced and is rapidly accelerating.

It’s a business epidemic heading towards a pandemic caused by a 3×5-inch or so electronic device called a smartphone. While this small handful of wizardry has revolutionized communications and provides a previously unimagined amount of instant access to information, it’s also costing businesses and negatively diverting employees’ attention, which can be a time waster and affect morale and civility.

Personnel at every level of organizations and companies, starting frequently with top executives and working down through the ranks, are taking this blessing of having instant communication access to the here and now and turning it into a curse. It’s as if there’s an invisible superglue that adheres to the hand, making it psychologically painful to release and turn it off.

Those affected subconsciously raise the device to their face when they should be listening to others speaking and instead begin feverously reading, drafting emails and texting on a fingerprint-laden tiny glass screen. Adding to this is seeing the user’s squinting eyes, appearing to be those of an automaton darting to and fro over what is partially concealed in their palm. More disconcerting, it’s likely that the data read during meetings and presentations isn’t even time sensitive. This results in the operator of the smartphone ignoring the person speaking.

What the user doesn’t realize is that the majority of the people in the audience note this aberrant behavior, as does the speaker standing at a podium. This sends the wrong message that whoever is talking is boring and has nothing of value to say, even though the presenter is providing useful and sometimes critical, must-know, timely information.

The smartphone has become the dominant center of attention even when two or more people are engaged in conversation. Its presence casts a detrimental pall over the proceedings when a participant holding the device can’t seem to look the other in the eyes. On top of this, it’s also rude and offensive.

If a senior management member ignores a subordinate who is presenting, it destroys the speechmaker’s incentive and morale, and adversely affects the offender’s reputation as being self-centered and boorish.

The adage, “monkey see, monkey do,” applies to this issue simply because if senior executives cannot refrain from using their devices in important settings with others, lower-level managers take it as tacit approval, assume this is appropriate business behavior, and mimic that conduct.

To deal with this growing problem, companies should take a lesson from spaghetti Western movies, which depict cowboys walking through the swinging doors of a saloon and surrendering their six-shooters at the door. Applying this same restriction to smartphones may be a bit draconian, but this would certainly send a message about the improper use of ubiquitous hand-held wireless gear in meetings.

As I witnessed others fondling their phone in gatherings, I had my “aha” moment and adopted my own form of self-styled withdrawal. Cured, I now listen “hands-free” in group sessions, focused on the speaker and gleaning more by staying in the present. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO