A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
May 15th, 2015 by William

The Real Cause of Nomophobia

Are you someone who’s always checking their smartphone for the latest text, email or Facebook post? I know I fall into that behavior pattern. No matter where you go, you see people glued to the screen of their phone–restaurants, walking, jogging and sadly even while driving. Despite laws forbidding texting-while-driving, one doesn’t have to travel far to see someone with their head down looking at their phone all the while going 70 MPH.

This behavior is the symptom of a growing disease that’s gripped the modern world. The “I-must-have-my-phone-with-me-at-all-times” mindset has become such a real problem, there’s now a name coined for that fear we all have of being without our phones. The malady is called: “Nomophobia,” as in no-mo (bile) phone-phobia. It’s described as that anxiety and fear that grips you when you realize you are disconnected or out of the loop with friends, family, work and the world.

Nomophobia also affects the workplace and is a common phobia amongst those in management positions. Today everyone has a smartphone, or the like, and those in management especially need to have a smartphone. Thus everyone in the typical workplace organization suffer this phobia to some extent and the higher on the corporate pyramid the more intense the phobia. What you may not realize is that people at the higher levels of the organizational pyramid suffer nomophobia for a different reason than those at the bottom or people not cursed to have to work for a living.

That’s because in the business environment the source of one’s nomophobic behavior actually stems not from the fear of being without one’s phone but the fear of possibly missing that email, text or call from the boss. This then leads to the fear of being without the phone. This unfortunately is the curse of middle management.

For those outside the business environment we fear not having our phone because we really suffer from another quite popular phobia brought about by today’s information age. It’s called FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out.” We fear not instantaneously seeing that latest post on Facebook or Twitter from one of our friends.

However, in the business environment people fear being separated from their phones because they actually fear the fact that the phone itself can/will be the instrument through which bad bosses drop bad tidings in our lap at the worst possible of times. In my last post we learned of the common management practice of pyromania and sociopathic management types love the smartphone as their vehicle of choice for lighting the next fire under their subordinates.

The truth is we actually enable the behavior because as a society we’re so addicted to the phone. Sociopathic management types know we’ll be responsive no matter the hour–we have to or we’re labeled “not committed,” “not a team player,” or “not engaged” or whatever buzz-phrase they want to label us with. Companies give out the phones to the staff knowing it implies that the holder is available 24/7 for the boss to get in touch with them.

These days, sociopathic bosses–the pyromaniacs of the business world–favorite incendiary devices are BlackBerrys and IPhones and all their smart phone cousins on the market. At the same time these devices have accelerated communications, they have dramatically lowered the barriers to bosses lighting fires. Now a boss can shift the student body left in just a few keystrokes.

The problem with the smart-phone (or any phone) is that they imply that any message received must be “hot” and must be addressed immediately regardless of what you may be doing at the time you get “the call.” You see this effect every day when you go to any store and attempt to checkout and pay. Just as the clerk starts to ring up your purchases the phone rings and just as predicted answering the phone becomes more important for the clerk than finishing your transaction. This implies that the caller is more important than you and thus you find yourself waiting while the caller is serviced first. For the clerk the call becomes an immediate distraction deferring them from whatever they were doing and what may well have been more important.

In the workplace, where e-mail and text messaging are king, this type behavior actually tends to magnify the pyromania problem because the typical text or email message is short, so the recipient lacks the context necessary to interpret its true urgency and feels it’s safest to respond right away. Getting one of these incendiary messages interrupts the receiver in the midst of whatever he/she is doing, and implies instant response is necessary. Of course that’s despite wherever the recipient may be, like a wedding rehearsal dinner, or at a seminar, while relaxing at home, or out with the grandkids, or on vacation, or wherever/whatever people may be doing on their supposed off-time.

So the poor recipient of these cyber-bombs feels the need–obligation really–to immediately respond. Of course misery does love company, so in true shit-runs-downhill fashion, what will undoubtedly happen next is that the original text/e-mail bomb will then be beamed out to multiple people, and so generates a flurry of back-and-forth requests for elaboration and action. If the recipient is a manager or supervisor he or she must set his or her staff into crises mode in absentia. Let the firefighting games begin.

The real irony is that the psychic prison organizations that house these sociopathic type bosses most probably have some statement in their “values’ epistle to the effect that they “promote and support a healthy work-life balance” for their employees. And, as I’m sure you too can attest, nothing is usually further from the truth.

In her 2015 CNN Money article, “No. 1 Cause of Bad Work-Life Balance? Bad Bosses,” Jeanne Sahadi details the result of a survey from project-management systems maker Workfront. In the survey 89% of those surveyed say it’s important for their employers not to contact them outside of work. Despite that, half of participants said that work has intruded on their time spent with family and friends and caused them to miss important life events such as weddings and birthdays. And roughly 40% said it has ruined time spent with family and caused them to lose focus when they were with them.

The bottom line is that a lack of true work-life balance makes for bad morale, where employees either resent each other or certainly the boss who’s not afraid to contact them at all off hours with a problem that’s typically not life-threatening to the organization. I can certainly attest to suffering the intrusion on my time spent with family and friends. I’ve been interrupted during weddings and birthdays and of course while on vacation almost too many times to remember. And yes it made me angry and bitter. This is mostly because whatever the crisis that prompted the boss to call me, hardly ever was it life-threatening to the organization. Most “crises” aren’t business life-threatening, even during normal work hours, let alone after hours.

So, if you suffer the symptoms of nomophobia, ask yourself what you’re really afraid of; not being close to your smartphone or really being stuck a slave to the smartphone. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that if you’re in management and have a company-supplied smartphone then you’re probably really more afraid of getting a call, or text, or e-mail, from your boss on an off-hour. For those in management it’s really this fear that is the cause of nomophobia, whether we want to admit it or not. For management having a smartphone really becomes a love-hate relationship. Those making the incendiary calls love it and the poor slob receiving the calls learns quickly to hate it.

The solution can be tough. Learning to ignore those frantic calls, emails or texts, from the boss can certainly be career-limiting. What really needs to happen in the business world is a return to what it was like back in days before smartphones where a boss would think twice before calling a subordinate at home, or on vacation, for a work-related issue. However, don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Since smartphones aren’t going anywhere soon the real solution is that those values statements, where management expounds on its pride of supporting work-life balance, need to be more than just words on a poster in the lunchroom.

So if you’re a boss that has engaged in using the smartphone as a way to keep your subordinates on their toes you need only look in the mirror to understand why your organization suffers a lack of teamwork and dedication and has lousy morale.

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