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The Way I See It … The Mobile Phone is Damaging Professionalism


Nick Hood

How did we cope without the mobile phone? It has revolutionised the way we work and play, allowing people to keep in touch 24/7. But with the trends for texting in sick and changing business plans at the last minute, has the mobile resulted in a working culture that lacks professionalism? Nick Hood, senior London partner of business rescue and recovery specialists Begbies Traynor, believes it has.

These days virtually everyone owns a mobile phone. Recent figures from the Mobile Operators Association report that well over 90% of adults own a mobile phone. Among people aged 16-25, mobile phone ownership is even higher, at 96%.

Mobile phones are, of course, a great boon to modern communications. If they weren’t so useful they wouldn’t have become such a fixture in our lives, and are now as integral to business success as email, faxes and landlines.

So why are mobile phones posing a threat to business, when they are obviously so genuinely useful?

The answer is that it’s not the phone itself that is causing problems, it’s how it’s used. The current generation of young employees, for whom using mobile phones and the Internet is as natural as breathing, are developing some sloppy work habits that we would be wise to nip in the bud.

I am not just referring to how the pernicious use of SMS text language is infecting how younger (and older, incredibly) staff members write business letters and other more traditional communications. I believe that more serious damage is being done to one of the most fundamental parts of running any professional organisation: good timekeeping.

In the very old days – 20 years or more ago – when only the very rich and very important had a mobile phone, all social and business arrangements were made on the assumption that once you’d left the house or your office to meet a business contact or friend, you were honour bound to a) turn up, and b) arrive promptly at the appointed time and place.

Unfortunately, with the ubiquity of mobile phones, today’s younger generation have a far more casual approach to making hard and fast social arrangements.

They ring each other on their mobiles, saying that they are just leaving work or home, and suggest to their friends that they meet up later, perhaps in a bar, at some very approximate time.

If they suddenly change venues because one bar’s too crowded, it’s not a problem, they just text or ring to make a fresh plan.

But this relaxed approach to timekeeping and making hard and fast arrangements, while good for social lives, is proving rather less beneficial for employers.

I heard from the MD of a medium-sized construction company that some of his younger operatives were much more unreliable than those of yesteryear.

He attributed it not just to the fact that employers are fighting for the best workers in a competitive market place, but also because young workers in his opinion hadn’t developed the habits of punctuality that are so well ingrained in the older generation.

In addition he was annoyed that his staff were texting in sick, rather than calling, hiding behind the comfort of modern technology and avoiding speaking to the boss.

Professional approach
However pedantic it may seem to criticise people for this type of unhelpful behaviour, as an insolvency practitioner dealing with failed and failing businesses, I know how fundamental things like good timekeeping are when it comes to instilling other good professional habits.

Like good manners or the importance of a smart and tidy appearance, coming to work on time is all part of being professional.

If managers can’t get staff to see these core values as unconscious essentials of every day business life, then other things including our attention to detail and customer responsiveness become even harder to achieve in the workplace.

My advice to employers is that they must be aware of this social trend. It is their duty to create workplace cultures that insist on punctuality as part of a professional approach. And this can’t just be down to the boss, it should fall to almost everyone, and be policed at all levels in the organisation. As part of employee induction, the importance of punctuality and maintaining high personal standards should be stressed. Explaining that these habits will ultimately affect how the organisation is judged externally.

Set an example
The case will be much easier to reinforce, as long as line managers lead by example, reinforcing why both turning up on time and professional etiquette are so important.

They should demonstrate, or even better prove, how business will be lost if the staff are not around on time to deal with calls, and how de-motivating it is for others who have to cover for their absent colleagues.

At the risk of sounding even more like 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells', another thing bosses should look out for is how the mobile phone culture also brings with it the culture of informality. If young staff do not stand on ceremony, and treat all people as they treat their friends, then they will almost certainly lose respect among older colleagues and customers.

Although certain industries including media or marketing, tend to make a virtue of informality and youth, others, especially ones with more mature customers, prefer the formalities to be observed.

Senior executives do like some acknowledgement of their position and take umbrage if they are addressed without due decorum.

Therefore, it is important your workplace culture is tuned to the requirements of each circumstance or audience. It is the only way of ensuring that there is a proper separation of professional demeanour and social habits.

So next time your staff are late for work, don’t shrug this off as unimportant, as it may cause you something of a greater problem later on. It’s up to all managers to nip it in the bud before the next generation develops some highly unprofessional work habits.


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