People’s tolerance for texting and smartphone use at work varies according to gender, region, and age.
Published in Business Communication Quarterly, the research offers a critical baseline for how attitudes toward technology may change over time, serving as a guide to navigating social expectations around polite smartphone use.
“Hiring managers often cite courtesy as among the most important soft skills they notice,” says co-author Peter Cardon, associate professor of clinical management communication at the Marshall School’s Center for Management Communication at University of Southern California.
“By focusing on civility, young people entering the workforce may be able to set themselves apart.”
The study reports that:
- Three out of four people—76 percent—say checking texts or emails is unacceptable behavior in business meetings.
- Eighty-seven percent of people say answering a call is rarely or never acceptable in business meetings.
- Even at more informal business lunches, the majority of people think writing a text message is rude—66 percent say writing or sending a text message is inappropriate.
- Men are nearly twice as likely as women to consider mobile phone use acceptable at a business lunch. More than 59 percent of men say it was fine to check text messages at a power lunch, compared to 34 percent of women who think checking texts is appropriate.
- Similarly, 50 percent of men say it is acceptable to answer a call at a power lunch, compared to 26 percent of women.
- Despite the casual reputation, professionals from the West Coast are less accepting of mobile phone use in meetings than people from the East Coast.
- Higher-income professionals have less tolerance for smartphone use in business meetings.
- Dramatic age gap: Younger professionals are nearly three times as likely as older professionals to think tapping out a message over a business lunch is appropriate—66 percent of people under 30 say texting or emailing was acceptable, compared to just 20 percent of those aged 51-65.
- At a working lunch with five other people? Chances are, just having your phone out is offending somebody: 20 percent of professionals say simply having your phone out at a business lunch is rude.
- Saying “excuse me” to take a call doesn’t cut it: More than 30 percent still find it to be rarely/never appropriate during informal or offsite lunch meetings.
With a national sample of more than 550 full-time working professionals, the study reveals what business professionals perceive as acceptable, courteous or rude use of mobile phones in the workplace.
The researchers first identified the most common grievances people had about smartphone use among their colleagues, including browsing the Internet and checking text messages. They then asked working professionals earning at least $30,000 a year to identify which of these behaviors they considered acceptable and which ones are flat-out rude.
“Not surprisingly, millennials and younger professionals were more likely to be accepting of smartphone use, but they might be doing themselves a disservice,” Cardon says. “In many situations, they rely on those older than them for their career advancement.”
Melvin Washington and Ephraim Okoro of Howard University are co-authors of the study.