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August 12, 2014

How Smartphones Are Making Us Dumb, Dangerous and Unproductive

Accidents happen and they seem to be happening at greater frequency in and around every road we travel. But the distracted smartphone generation could be endangering themselves and us not only on the road but at work. Another client called to inform me to avoid an accident he sideswiped another driver after being run off the road by a texting driver two minutes after leaving work. The other was cited but my client said: “John, we busted butt to get this job and it could have been worse. It could have been my last day on the new job and the last day on earth.”

Before I go further let me admit that “smartphones” can be useful devices for work, getting hired or staying informed. Hey, I admit it that I have written or talked about it and I am sure that I have been distracted and hurt myself in some ways, just not physically yet and I hope (and pray) never. But the virtues of our “mobile workforce” are frankly quite overrated and their needs to me to be some leveling. I am here to say it. Distracted drivers, employers, employees…or anyone are endangering us, our families, our ability to go to and come from work safely. Let’s make a promise right now to lessen distractions and concentrate on what we are doing – driving, working, being with our families. What else could we add to this list? Lots, right? I know the cell phone companies, the apps people and the mobile juggernaut can’t be stopped but the stupidity surrounding the distracted and dangerous people it’s producing can be and should be fought. May I do my little part to fight?

It seems like every day one of the threats to our jobs are the people being distracted by their so-called smart phones. What if you make it to work but never make it home. What if you can’t get projects done because everyone around you is too distracted and disengaged to provide their best help? Alternatively, what can you do to stand out in any line of work you are in today? How about you get off your smartphone and get to work?

In my case I speak with hiring managers and employers everyday, small and large. Here are some of the things they say. In the last year potential employers have asked me this question (and more like it) like this:

“How engaged and focused is this person in general and at work?”

“What is there productivity level or do they have other issues?”

“Tell me their attention span and engagement level on difficult projects.”

For some illumination, here is what I said after recognizing questions like this last time it was asked of me: “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” one recruiter said who knows me. “Can they focus and get things done or frankly, are they on their friggin’ cell phone all day?”

Does anyone have time to finish the projects they are on? Or do they need constant breaks to return calls, texts and check things on their cell?

Can we go back to the road for those coming and going from work which seems to be even more dangerous these days? Test me on this please. The next time you drive look safely out of your car window at any other driver on the road are they looking at their cellphones or driving? What do you find? Are people at work working or kind of never disconnected from their cell phones or “smartphones” all the time? Are people more distracted or less distracted today? Hiring a distracted employee endangers you and others; they cause accidents and perhaps less concerning for us cause any organization to lose productivity. Employers themselves can’t seem to stop or stem the “distracted employees” that they hire. People expect to be connected all the time, everywhere and their connectivity at all times seems to be viewed by them as their noble right.

I hesitated to write anything about this subject for a week then about a week ago another friend and I talked at the YMCA where he and I were their working out late. I started: “Hey man, you are here uncharacteristically late.”

“This morning I totaled my car,” as he took his ear phones out. “Crazy. The person was texting and pulled right in front of me. You know me, I am never here this late but it totaled my car and I am in a rental. I was pulling out of work.”

“Unreal.”

“Real to me. I couldn’t believe it. He was turning onto I-40 just looking down at his phone…just before I tried to not hit him.” He looked up and shook his head.

“People can’t just drive. They have to be on, don’t they?”

He said: “It’s epidemic.”

“I agree. Epidemic’s a good word.” He put his earphones in and started his workout. Kind of ironic but at that moment was only moving his legs and walking away.

This week I took a networking lunch with a client. Today he’s one of the top financial executives in the State of North Carolina. We just had not caught up after his successful last transition. We had a great lunch conversation as I learned about his newest opportunity over the past year. The talk covered everything, common friends, family and of course it descended to the world of smartphone stupidity and unproductivity.

Because it was on my mind I asked him:

“You’ve a good many, have direct reports and let go some,” I said. “What’s changed in the workplace for you in the last year or so? I know the market’s a bit better, right?”

“Oh it’s better,” he said in agreement. “But everyone’s distracted and everyone’s time is being aggressively taken by their over connected nature. I’ve had to have many talks which has helped some but some people are ADD addicted to their ‘devices’. It’s hard to get things done sometimes. Directly or indirectly these over connected people are usually targeted as the first to go if we ever need to let people go.”

We added other observations shared about our over connected nature and the dangers to productivity it poses. We agreed the least damage to us may be the brand demising nature of our over connected and distracted workforce. We noticed in multiple networking meetings people hold up their phones and look at them sporadically when talking to you. Projects take longer now than before because people need breaks to answer email, check texts and view new pushed content on their smartphones. Rarely does anyone use their phones to enhance their brand at work or get projects done more efficiently.

So what’s the solution? How about we all agree to put down our phones and drive? How about we make a pact to put down our phones and work at the task at hand? We will be more productive and less dangerous and that’s a smart move.

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