Tips for Establishing an Employee Texting Policy

Texting in the workplace often gets a bad rap. Yet it’s an easy, direct way to reach out to people when you need a quick response, whether or not you’re at your desk. It also affords employees who are working from various locations a convenient means to stay in touch with one another. And, unlike phone calls, texting is quiet and generally unobtrusive.

However, if left unchecked, texting can present problems for some businesses, from negatively affecting productivity to threatening the well-being of employees and causing liability issues. (For businesses that employ drivers, texting or talking on a cell phone while operating a vehicle poses serious risks, to cite just one example.)

So, what kind of employee policy makes sense for this wildly popular form of communication?

There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

As you consider the pros and cons of an employee texting policy, try to gauge the impact of restricting or forbidding this activity on morale and productivity. Is texting a genuine problem that can only be addressed by a company-wide ban, or do only a few employees abuse the privilege? Employees may respond poorly to your rules if they believe that everyone is being punished for the bad behavior of a few people. In these cases, the wisest strategy may be to speak with the offending employee about curtailing this behavior, rather than taking more drastic action company-wide.

Experts advise taking a careful approach to designing an employee texting policy. “Your company’s policy for text messaging will depend entirely on your company’s size, area of expertise, and culture, as well as the overall productivity of your workers,” says business efficiency and performance consultant Andrew Jensen.

Such a policy should include — in writing — some or all of the following:

  • Statement of purpose — Some employees don’t want anything to get between them and their cell phones. A clear explanation of the need for a texting policy may help to counter their resistance.
  • Coverage of all devices — “Cell phones” isn’t a broad enough term to cover the varied devices people use today. To be safe, your policy should address texting of all types (SMS, instant messaging, Facebook chat, etc.) through the use of phones, text pagers, two-way radios and other wireless devices
  • Description of who’s covered — As with most other employment policies, your texting rules should apply to all employees, consultants, temporary staff, and other third parties who work either on-site or in the field. All cell phones — those belonging to the company and those owned by individuals — should also be covered.
  • List of specific activities — Operating any vehicle, including heavy machinery and personal cars and trucks used for business-related purposes, should be at the top of your list of activities during which texting is strictly forbidden. The Society for Human Resource Management offers this sample policy: “Employees are prohibited from texting or making use of electronic mail functions while the vehicle is in motion. This prohibition includes the time waiting for a traffic signal to change.” The policy should also note where and when texting is permitted, such as in a designated break area or while employees are not engaged in work-related duties or in contact with customers.

If You Can’t Enforce the Policy, Don’t Set One

Without the will and resources to enforce a texting policy across the board, you’re wasting your time and energy. If you set clear rules and your employees fail to follow them, they should understand that, as with other policies, you will take disciplinary action. This may involve: a verbal warning, a written warning, a final warning, and, if necessary, job termination.

Your employee texting policy need not be overly broad. It should acknowledge that, under certain circumstances, texting is perfectly acceptable (when it’s work-related, during break times, when employees need to contact family members, etc.). Structure your policy in such a way that everyone understands that spending too much time texting affects both their own productivity and that of the people around them.

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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3 comments
RichPeterson
RichPeterson

I use a monitoring android application that has saved my business tons of money, and allowed me to find easily manage my employees by using the app for more than I invisioned originally.   I am able to track their locations, restrict their access, monitor customer interactions.  It has really helped me.  I use cellphonesleuth.com and it has been great and inexpensive.   There are others out there as well.

imnewtothis
imnewtothis

Being a neophyte with managing employees' electronic activities, how do you monitor their texts (short of asking to see their phones)?

MJMcKenzie
MJMcKenzie

Under the umbrella of liability, I would also recommend to those who decide to implement a policy, that the policy also reference and is consistent with a company's overall policies concerning the retention of electronically stored information ("ESI").Text messages may or may not be intended for communicating certain types of information that are part of the company's regular business processes.  To the extent that they are not, policy should both reflect that intention, and include both periodic reminders and formal enforcement provisions, which in turn must be consistently applied.Otherwise, a company may find itself exposed, in subsequent litigation, to requests for production of text messages that circumvent the policy, and claims of spoliation if those text messages cannot be produced..  In that event, documentation of a consistently enforced policy is crucial to defend against claims that a litigant's document retention/destruction policies should be disregarded. Such claims, at best, can be expensive to litigate, and at worst can result in unfavorable settlements, and sanctions ranging from money damages to a loss of a party's case. It's definitely worth exploring the cost of prevention.