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James Roberts: Is it any wonder that "phubbing," or "phone snubbing," became talk of the town?

Our love affair with the smartphone is wreaking havoc on personal and workplace relationships

Editor’s Note: James A. Roberts is professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

Is it any wonder that “phubbing,” or “phone snubbing,” if you will, went viral on the Internet in recent days? So much so that even a skit on last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” mentioned it. Admit it: You’ve done it, your partner has done it, just about everyone around you has committed it.

Phubbing is the practice of looking at your phone in a social situation instead of giving someone your full attention. In a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, my colleague Meredith E. David and I found that when a romantic partner phubs you, conflict arises and you are left with a reduced level of satisfaction with your most intimate relationship. This, in turn, reduces your overall life satisfaction and increases the likelihood that you would report being depressed.

James A. Roberts

Good communication is the cornerstone of any kind of relationship. We are a nation of distracted and cowardly communicators. We send a clear message to others that whatever is on our screens is more important than them. We hide behind our phones, unwilling to navigate the sometimes uncomfortable waters that come with face-to-face communication. We find mates and break up with these same people via our smartphones.

CNN Photos: Our mobile ‘addiction’

It’s not just our romantic relationships that are suffering the effects of phubbing. We use a measure – what we call the Partner Phubbing scale – to rate “boss phubbing.” This would show how one’s supervisor phubbed him or her in their presence.

We’ve all been through it, right? Here are a couple of examples: “My boss glances at his/her cell phone when talking to me,” or, “when my boss’ cell phone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.”

The results of our survey of approximately 200 U.S. adults are both surprising and revelatory. Our love affair with the smartphone is securely ensconced at work and is wreaking havoc on workplace relationships and productivity.

When reported “boss phubbing” increased, employees expressed less trust in their manager. Phubbed employees were less likely to feel they could trust their “supervisor to keep the promises he/she makes” or trust their “supervisor will treat them fairly.” This lack of trust led phubbed individuals to be less psychologically available to perform their job since they felt they did not have adequate managerial support, tools, or information.

A phubbed employee’s psychological safety was also imperiled by such behavior. They were less confident that they could reveal their true selves without fear of negatively affecting their sense of self-worth, job security, or career path. Furthermore, they said they were less satisfied with the opportunities available for advancement and less loyal and proud of their organization overall.

The end result? Lower levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment led to lower levels of self-reported job performance. Boss-phubbed employees rated their job performance lower than fellow employees who reported lower levels of boss phubbing.

It appears that a simple behavior – spending too much time on the phone in the presence of another human being – can have adverse consequences. If phubbing reduces worker productivity, shouldn’t managers stop?

Whether it’s in the bedroom or boardroom, let’s take a break from our phone (unless it’s an emergency call). Many of us are at least a little bit addicted to our smartphones. It’s the ultimate paradox of technology – while the smartphone allows us to do things unimaginable a mere 20 years ago, it also enslaves us. How do we break out of bonding with a screen?

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