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by Kendra Clark, for SIOP

Study Shows Taking Short Smartphone Breaks Improves Employee Well-Being

For a lot of people, their smartphone has become an indispensible tool for daily life, and many wouldn’t dare leave their homes without it.

Although a smartphone can obviously be used for calling, it’s the gadget’s other uses—from surfing the Internet to playing games—that might lead employers to believe having smartphones at work could be a costly distraction. However, two SIOP members have recently given employers a reason to appreciate smartphone usage among their employees.

“Having workers take small breaks on their phones throughout the day may positively influence their perceived well-being at the end of the workday,” said Sooyeol Kim, an I-O doctoral student under YoungAh Park, assistant professor at Kansas State University.

This research will be presented May 15-17, 2014 at the 29th Annual SIOP Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kim, along with Qikun Niu, I-O doctoral student under SIOP Fellow Lois Tetrick at George Mason University, wanted to know what effects smartphone usage had on employees, but they could not find any research on it.

“Many people use smartphones in the workforce, but there is no study that I know of that focuses on smartphone usage during work breaks,” Kim said.

To uncover smartphones’ effects, Kim and Niu surveyed 72 employees from various industries in South Korea. Each employee was sent surveys for 5 consecutive work days asking them about their scale of work load for that day and perceived well-being. The employees also downloaded an app Kim had designed to their smartphone. The app measured the time spent during the workday on their phone and also separated the phone usage into three categories: social media, entertainment/leisure, and personal/informative.

They found that there is a positive within-person relationship between using smartphones to take microbreaks (such as texting a friend) and a perceived well-being at the end of the work day, Kim said.

The results also show that on days when employees used smartphones more for social media use, they reported higher well-being at the end of the workday than when using their phones for entertainment or personal reasons.

“We buy smartphones so we can interact with people,” Kim explained. “We use them for social interaction, so I think that’s why social media was shown to make employees the most happy.”

It can be beneficial for organizations to know the different types of apps and which make employees most happy, Kim said.

“This information tells us what factors are related to happy employees,” he said. “If they are happy with social activities and employers know that, they may want to use the phone for those purposes during microbreaks in the future. I’m aware of some caveats that too much use of social media may not be good. So I’m interested in knowing how microbreak activities can facilitate both well-being and work engagement.”

Some managers might wonder when phone breaks become so long that they are impeding work.

“According to the data, the average combined minutes of usage a worker has on their smartphone during the workday is about 20 minutes,” Kim said. “20-25 minutes is good for the employees and not largely hurting work-related activities.”

Many of these employees might have a computer in front of them but still choose to use their phones for breaks. Kim said the smartphone might be more appealing because of several factors.

“Smartphones are more personal devices than computers. No one can see the screen like they can see the monitor on a computer. You don’t have to share with others what you are doing,” he said. “Also, the phone provides faster access because you don’t have to type in passwords or other information; the phone can take you straight to where you want to go.”

Kim said he believes this type of research can go further.

“The preliminary finding in my study shows a positive correlation between certain categories of smartphone use and well-being indicators, so managers may want to know further about whether microbreaks have positive effects on performance or work engagement above and beyond well-being outcomes” he said. “They should care not only for themselves but for the organization as well.”

Currently, Kim is working on a new project looking into microbreaks.

“I am examining the effect of microbreaks on employees’ performance directly,” he said. “I think microbreaks might reduce employees’ immediate fatigue and negative affect from work stressors as well as increase their motivation and resources that can lead to better performance.”

Contact researcher Sooyeol Kim at sooyeolkim@gmail.com and Qikun Niu at qikun880619@gmail.com