Study: This is the secret way your boss is snubbing you

When you’re holding a phone in your hand at work, you may nod and speak at the right intervals, but employees read your smartphone’s presence as a sign of your disinterest, a new study in Computers in Human Behavior found.

Researchers James A. Roberts and Meredith David called this behavior phone-snubbing, or “phubbing,” which they defined as “the extent to which a supervisor uses or is distracted by his/her cell phone while in the presence of subordinates.”

Study: Phone-snubbing increases employees’ mistrust

When the 408 employees and supervisors surveyed answered affirmatively to statements like, “My boss places his/her cellphone where I can see it when we are together” and “When my boss’ cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation,” that correlated with negative ratings on statements like “I can rely on my supervisor to keep the promises he/she makes.”

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In fact, three-in-four employees surveyed showed a lack of trust in a boss who “phubbed” them. When our bosses prioritize their phones, we feel like they do not prioritize our professional development — and our productivity and engagement suffer for it. Employees who did not trust their phubbing bosses had a 5% decrease in employee engagement.


When we see our boss tapping on a screen in front of us, we wonder, “Hellooo? Is she even listening to our idea?” The presence of a phone is enough to derail our self-confidence. Employees who are the victims of phubbing “are less likely to feel that their work is valuable or conducive to their own professional growth, and employees who work under the supervision of an untrusted, phubbing supervisor tend to have lower confidence in their own ability to carry out their job,” David said.

The ability to get things successfully done goes down when your employees don’t think you’re really listening to them. You may think scrolling through your phone during meetings is harmless, but when you’re the boss, the presence of smartphones can undermine your work relationships with employees.

Making your employee feel fully heard begins with putting down your phone and giving them your full attention. Your Slack messages and emails can wait.

Detaching from phones begins with being mindful to their addictive qualities

It’s not necessarily all our fault that we’re attached to the hand to our phones, though. The apps and features within our phones have been built to be addictive. Google, Twitter, and Facebook workers have recently admitted that their devices do not always have our best interests in mind — they’re designed to keep us engaged at all costs.

Even Facebook recently admitted that using its social network is not always good for our mental health. In a recent corporate blog post that cited outside studies, Facebook researchers acknowledged that passively consuming information via social networks like Facebook makes people feel bad about themselves.

It’s one more reason to pocket your phone when you’re talking to co-workers.

That’s the paradox within these addictive smart devices — they help us instantly find and connect to one another; but when we bring them into our physical work interactions with one another, they can also make us feel more disconnected and alone.