Image: iStock/ridofranz

In the interconnected digital age, there are myriad apps, notifications, and texts vying for people’s attention throughout the day. Overall, Americans spend more than five hours on their smartphones per diem, according to a recent study. A new survey illustrates just how often employees are distracted by their smartphones on the job. It turns out employees are spending hours of the workday on their smartphones, at times this is even despite employees policies against such behavior.

“What’s astonishing is that 47% of respondents said their employer actually had a policy that restricted smartphone use at work. So we’re seeing these problems despite the existence of smartphone restrictions. This indicates that policy compliance and enforcement is a significant challenge,” said Michael Mercier, president of the nonprofit research group Screen Education.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Monday, Screen Education released “Digital Distraction & Workplace Safety” detailing the results of a survey conducted in the spring of this year, involving more than 1,000 US employees across industries. Overall, employees spend about 2.5 hours per day on average “accessing digital content” that is not related to their profession.

Telecommuters noted a vast spectrum of digital distractions in the era of remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic. About half of respondents (52%) said they were currently working from home more than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. Within this particular group, 54% reported being in communication with their social circle and family members via phone, text, email, and social media more than usual.

Aside from worker efficiency and overall productivity, there are also safety ramifications related to the smartphone distractions. In fact, one-in-seven (14%) reported that a smartphone distraction had resulted in at least one workplace accident. Overall, 59% of these accidents resulted in property damage and half resulted in death or injury, according to the report.

Accidents related to smartphone distraction were more prevalent in industrial environments with 26% of respondents employed in industrial workplaces reporting such incidents. In this setting, 75% of these accidents resulted in property damage and more than half (58%) led to death or injury.

The report also describes a series of examples of these particular accidents. These range from a patient falling “because someone was listening to music and didn’t hear the alarm” to an “employee in a company car texting and driving” who proceeded to roll “the car off a cliff.” In another instance, a person on a smartphone in an elevator had their jacket caught in the door causing “that person’s collar choke them and leave a red mark.”

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Interestingly, some employees would like assistance from employers to help minimize these cellular distractions. Nearly one-in-five (19%) of respondents “wish their employer would assist them in reducing the amount of time they spend using non-work digital content during the workday.” More than one-quarter (27%) of respondents employed in the industrial sector would like employer assistance with smartphone distraction.

“Employers can’t continue to risk having their employees maimed or killed, or to incur enormous property damage costs and liabilities, and increased insurance rates. We must aggressively tackle this problem,” Mercier said.