Think of the smartphone break as the new cigarette break. Employees who are jonesing to check in with their social networks are going to be happier and more relaxed if you give them permission to step into the hall or break room and tweet away for 20 minutes a day.
At least that's what preliminary research based upon a very small study told doctoral candidate Sooyeol Kim at Kansas State University. “Having workers take small breaks on their phones throughout the day may positively influence their perceived well-being at the end of the workday," he said.
Before you set aside a text zone in the office, consider that Kim sampled just 72 young workers in South Korea. He's still working on his hypothesis, the results of which he intends to present to a conference in May. However, he said, what he's learned so far indicates that allowing workers to take smartphone social networking breaks may be the smart play.
Kim began with the assumption that most managers consider smartphones to be workplace distractions that steal money from the company in lost work time. He and fellow researcher Qikun Niu, doctoral student at George Mason University, set out to kick the tires on that one.
“Many people use smartphones in the workforce, but there is no study that I know of that focuses on smartphone usage during work breaks,” Kim said.
Each of the 72 employees in their study received surveys for five consecutive work days. They were asked to describe their scale of work load for that day and perceived well-being. Kim gave them an app to download that measured the time spent during the workday on their phone. The app further separated the phone usage into three categories: social media, entertainment/leisure, and personal/informative.
Here's what they found: "There is a positive within-person relationship between using smartphones to take microbreaks (such as texting a friend) and a perceived well-being at the end of the work day. The results also show that on days when employees used smartphones more for social media use, they reported higher well-being at the end of the workday than when using their phones for entertainment or personal reasons."
Well-being is, well, all well and good, in the right proportion to work produced. Kim said he understands that he needs to do further research to see if, as he suspects, this sense of well-being will translate into higher productivity, fewer lost work days, etc.
“I’m aware of some caveats that too much use of social media may not be good. So I’m interested in knowing how microbreak activities can facilitate both well-being and work engagement. The preliminary finding in my study shows a positive correlation between certain categories of smartphone use and well-being indicators, so managers may want to know further about whether microbreaks have positive effects on performance or work engagement above and beyond well-being outcomes,” he said. “They should care not only for themselves but for the organization as well.”