bringing phones impacts the way coworkers see you

Dedicated to everyone whose made the workplace bathroom their corner office. #SkillsGap

Nowadays it seems like our cell phones are glued to the side of our face or stuck to our hands with crazy glue. Separating someone from their phone could be a challenge. So much so – people forget where they are in the workplace while texting, talking and typing and will seamlessly go from the corner office to the corner stall without thinking much about it. In this weeks article, I’m going to examine how your cell phone habits may be causing you to flush your professional reputation down the toilet (literally and figuratively).

Fact: 1 in 4 people always use their phone while sitting on the toilet in the workplace

Many people (of all ages) struggle to understand the social norms of their workplace and it’s culture. Common etiquette when it comes to your smartphone is still somewhat unchartered waters for many and understanding exactly when and where being on your phone is permitted is sometimes unclear. Many employees never fully “get it” or adopt the necessary behaviors that would otherwise make them more assimilated into the workplace and not look or appear rude in front of their boss or peers.

Although cell phone workplace etiquette varies based on your office, it was however once reported that people at Amazon  frequently brought their laptops into the bathroom and wrote code. I will come back to this in a moment. Granted this is one story at one company but there are still a few key habits to watch out for to avoid derailing yourself or your career. Let’s start with some basic “no-no’s” when it comes to you handling your smartphone inside the office but outside the bathroom:  

In Meetings, the use of your smartphone used the wrong way can have big impact on the way your coworkers see you in the workplace. According to research conducted by USC’s Marshal School Of Business:

  • 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during formal meetings
  • 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during formal meetings
  • 75% think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during formal meetings
  • 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during any meetings
  • At least 22% think it’s inappropriate to use phones during any meetings

The impact on you, 
can be quite severe if not nipped in the bud. According to the workplace Emotional Intelligence experts, Talent Smart – people may think you demonstrate an intentional:   

  • Lack of respect. You consider the information on your phone to be more important than the conversation at hand, and you view people outside of the meeting to be more important than those sitting right in front of you.
  • Lack of attention. You are unable to stay focused on one thing at a time.
  • Lack of listening. You aren’t practicing active listening, so no one around you feels heard.
  • Lack of power. You are like a modern-day Pavlovian dog who responds to the whims of others through the buzz of your phone.
  • Lack of self-awareness. You don’t understand how ridiculous your behavior looks to other people.
  • Lack of social awareness. You don’t understand how your behavior affects those around you.

Fact: Millennials have the lowest self-awareness in the workplace, making them unlikely to see that their smartphone use in meetings is harming their careers.

Start doing more of this 
and you won’t need to worry about your cell phone habits (as much):

  • Work lunches. Your phone should be on vibrate and in your pocket but not on the table. It’s not a piece of silverware and no please don’t try to eat with it. If other people have their phone on the table, resist the temptation to replace your knife with your phone. If you truly have an urgent call coming in, let the other people know in advance – this way you won’t look or be rude.
  • Have a professional ring tone. No one wants to hear the theme song from Rocky, Taylor Swift or your favorite music track. Some things are truly meant for yourself and your ears alone. If you think it will turn other off, it probably will.
  • Take your personal calls in a private setting. Your personal matters are yours and not for the public to know. Having your life become public property could lead to others discussing your life in ways they might not fully understand because they only heard your side of the call. In the end, air on the side of caution and respect your coworkers who are trying to work around you. Look for an empty conference room or go outside the office.
  • Stop checking your phone under the table. No matter how slick you think you are…you aren’t. People know, see and sense when others are not present and that means you. Especially if there is someone speaking or worse standing and presenting. This will certainly put you in a bad light and can easily be avoided. Should there be an urgent need to check your phone, let people know in advance so you can politely and professionally excuse yourself and handle your business.

But I digress…let’s get back to the dirtier side of this articles topic.

Did You Know: The average cell phone is almost 20x dirtier than a public toilet.

But wait, if you think that’s not too surprising – it actually gets worse. 

Fact: 1 in 4 people always use their phone when on the toilet.

So what are these people doing in there and are you on the other line when they are in the bathroom?

So you may be asking yourself, “why am I still reading this and do I really care?” – well you should and here is why:

Fact: 1 in 6 smartphones contain fecal matter on it.

Final thought:
All stats aside, proper cell phone habits in the workplace is a serious matter and you should definitely make sure you are doing the right thing – in the right situations. And yes you should absolutely be mindful of how, when and definitely where you use your phone. Moving forward, look to be part of the 92% of people who wash their hands (after using the workplace bathroom) and if you’re feeling a little OCD, maybe a light rinse of your smartphone could be in order (disclaimer: I cannot endorse your phones ability to resist water – try at your own risk).

Lastly, the next time you ask to borrow someones cell phone or scroll through someone else’s social media feed, remember this article and make sure you wash your hands (if not the other persons phone) first. If you are reading this in the bathroom right now, thank you and it’s probably time to get back to work.

*Thankfully, no field research on my part was needed for these stats.

 Your turn: What’s the worst cell phone habit you’ve witnessed in the workplace?

With leadership,


Not-your-typical Personal and Executive Master Certified Coach.
Joshua Miller is a creative and impactful leader. His career experience has spanned both the advertising world and the world of leadership and organizational development. To learn more about Joshua, please visit

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