Silent Majority Speaks Out

We’ve all experienced it, many of us probably more times than we’d like. There we are, sitting in a meeting, when all of a sudden we hear an annoying ringtone. It could be Beethoven’s 5th or something far worse. A second or two passes before one of your colleagues pulls out his or her iPhone or Android to take a call, scurrying to the door with an excuse-me look on his or her face. Not a good moment for that person or for his or her colleagues.

Worse yet, that person might be us.

158344061Uncivil behavior in the workplace can take many forms, but a case could easily be made that the misuse of smartphones and other mobile devices ranks somewhere near the top of the list of most repeated workplace annoyances.

It’s therefore no surprise to find more and more researchers studying these behaviors, with the latest coming from Peter W. Cardon of the Marshall School of Business (at the University of Southern California) and colleagues at Howard University. Their research, published yesterday in the Business Communications Quarterly, is reportedly one of the first studies (if not the first) to look at how attitudes toward these behaviors break down across things such as gender, age and region.

As might be expected, the findings confirm that most people consider such behaviors unacceptable, with 76 percent saying checking texts or emails is a no-no at business meetings and 87 percent of people saying that answering a call is rarely or never acceptable in such a setting.

Even at more informal business lunches, most (66 percent) consider writing or sending text messages rude.

If you notice more women shaking their heads in disgust than men, there’s probably good reason. The researchers — who questioned 550 full-time working professionals earning $30,000 a year or more — found men were nearly twice as likely as women to consider mobile-phone use at a business lunch acceptable. (More than 59 percent of men said it was OK to check text messages at a power lunch, compared to 34 percent of women who thought checking texts was appropriate.)

Before you reach for your silence button, though, it’s also worth mentioning that the findings offer a  glimmer of hope to those who think these behaviors aren’t all that bad.

Younger professionals were 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 said texting or emailing was OK, compared to just 20 percent of those aged 51 to 65.”

Which raises the troubling (at least to me) question: How different might things look 20 years from now?

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