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.