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Cell Phone Use at Work: Where’s the Line?

Blog by Pepperdine University student David Kim

This week I will post five blogs from students at Pepperdine University. Professor Carolyn Galantine assigned students to choose a blog and post comments. I appreciate students' inclusion of my blog in their responses. This is blog #4.

There are many different business ethical issues faced in the workplace; however, one topic that is prevalent is the issue of spending time online on personal activities. It is common knowledge for one to do their work during their time at work, but it is also common for one to use their phone during this time. Though this is a constant pattern that exists in the workplace, there is a debate on seeing really how much time spent on their phones and personal activities is really too much. Especially as technology is advancing quickly and accessibility is increasing dramatically, technology use is growing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that people check their phones at an average of 85 times a day[1]. Furthermore, people actually think that we use our phones around 40 or 50 times[2]. The fact that we use our phones twice as many times as we think we do indicates our habitual use of smartphones and how prevalent they are in our daily lives.   Cell phone

            Although it is evident that phone-use is prevalent in our daily lives, it is also important to consider the extent of how obsessed or dependent we are on these phones. According to OpenMarket, 83% of millenials open text messages within 90 seconds of receiving them[3]. As millenials hold a large part of the workforce, this statistic illustrates how much cell phones can create a significant distraction at work. According to an article from the Fortune, an average office employee spends almost an hour using their phone at work for non-work activity, ultimately totaling to over 5 hours a week of lost productivity[4]. These 5 hours only account for time wasted through phone usage, which excludes wasted time with sports sites, mobile gaming, errands, shopping, etc.

            So where is the line? Do we ban total phone usage in the workplace? Do we accept this inevitability and move on? First, it is necessary to accept that cell phones are here to stay. As our lives are moving towards technology and cell phones become so accessible and useful, it is unlikely for the workplace to completely ban phone usage. However, there needs to be limitations when it comes to using phones in the workplace that needs to be set. For example, when it comes to meetings, interactions with customers, and conferences, it should be expected of the employees that phones should not be used during these times. It is also important to define cell phone etiquette, such as keeping calls short, speaking quietly and setting phones to vibrate or silent. This is important so that companies can not only avoid individual distractions but also distractions to others[5]. It is evident that all companies have different cultures and ways of operation, but addressing this business ethical issue can help improve productivity and efficiency that can ultimately benefit the company.


[1] Carolyn Gregoire, “You Probably Use Your Smartphone Way More Than You Think”, huffingtonpost,, accessed November 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kaytie Zimmerman, “Is Your Cell Phone Killing Your Productivity At Work?”, Forbes,, accessed November 2018.

[4] Chris Morris, “Here’s How You’re Wasting 8 Hours Per Work Week”, Fortune,, accessed November 2018.

[5] Kathy Simpson, “What To Do When an Employee Spends Too Much Time on Their Cell Phone”, The Hartford,, accessed November 2018.

Student blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 29, 2018. Visit Steve's website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Like his page.