In 2014, a graduate student at Kansas State University performed a study that concluded employees who retained access to their cellphones during the day and had the opportunity to use them for micro breaks of one or two minutes to play games and look at social media were happier and more productive. The study, through an app that tracked usage, also found that most workers only used their phones an average of 22 minutes per workday. Given these results, many business articles were written encouraging employers to allow employees access to their phones. 

Five years have passed since the study, and the more recent studies are now dealing with cellphone and other video addictions. Some people simply cannot stand to be away from their cellphones. Teenagers liken parents taking away a cellphone to cruel and unusual punishment. Now that most phones come with built-in usage meters, many people are finding out that looking at a cellphone is taking up a significant amount of time. 

Whether or not allowing employees access to cellphones in the fast casual restaurant world would benefit employers is questionable. Certainly, having employees distracted by cellphones while working in kitchens preparing food in an environment that demands concentration is not a situation employers would allow. It creates a safety issue. Likewise, most employees have more than enough work to fill their time, absent normal breaks, to look at their phones. As such, many restaurants have rules preventing employees from bringing cellphones into the restaurant at any time during their shift. Instead, they must leave them in the car or at home.

But today, the labor market is tight. Applicants may well be dissuaded from accepting a job that separates them entirely from the tool they use for communicating, entertainment and information. It could be argued that such a decision suggests an individual's priorities are flawed. But there is no question that, given a choice between a position that allows some access to a cellphone and a position that allows none, most people are going to choose having some access to their phone. 

Employers need to be thoughtful about how to address their employees' desires. Letting employees keep cellphones on their person with a rule that they can only be taken out during breaks would be doomed to fail. The buzz of an incoming text is simply too strong a pull for most to ignore. If a cellphone is in a person's pocket, it will be looked at whenever a notification vibrates. Having a single location for employees to place all cellphones during shifts opens the possibility of theft. Many employees do not drive cars to work, so leaving the phone in the car is not an option. 

If you are finding that employees' desire for access to cellphones is detrimental to recruiting and are seeing current employees frequently breaking "no cellphone" rules, then rethinking the "no cellphone" policy is warranted. In the fast-casual setting, this change will likely be allowing the phones on the premises as long as use is limited to break times. Determining how to provide employees with limited access to cellphones without interfering with productivity will be location-specific. One possibility is having the manager on duty keep them in a locked drawer. The downside is the manager will need to be present to open the drawer every time an employee takes a break. A potentially better solution is a set of small lockers. Giving employees a secure place to maintain their phones while at work that allows them to obtain occasional access would likely meet the need. 

This is not to say policies need to be changed. If your "no cellphone" rules are not interfering with hiring and employee morale, there is no urgent need. It is something to be considered on a case-by-case basis, determined by the needs of your business. 

Previously published in Fast Casual.

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