Smartphone bans and workplace performance

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This paper constitutes the first economic investigation into the potential detrimental role of smartphones in the workplace based on a field experiment. We exploit the conduct of a nationwide telephone survey, for which interviewers were recruited to work individually and in single offices for half a day. This setting allows to randomly impose bans on the use of interviewers’ personal smartphones during worktime while ruling out information spillovers between treatment conditions. Although the ban was not enforceable, we observe substantial effort increases from banning smartphones in the routine task of calling households, without negative implications linked to perceived employer distrust. Analyzing the number of conducted interviews per interviewer suggests that higher efforts do not necessarily translate into economic benefits for the employer. In our broad discussion of smartphone bans and their potential impact on workplace performance, we consider further outcomes of economic relevance based on data from employee surveys and administrative phone records. Finally, we complement the findings of our field experiment with evidence from a survey experiment and a survey among managers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)287-317
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 01.02.2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Agnes Bäker, Urs Fischbacher, Inga Hillesheim, Matthias Heinz, Florian Hett, Manuel Hoffmann, Dirk Sliwka, Nick Zubanov, the editor in charge, Roberto Weber, two anonymous referees, and the participants of the Workshop on Experimental Labour and Personnel Economics in Trier 2015, the 2015 NCBEE in Tampere, the 2015 European Meeting of the ESA in Heidelberg, the 2015 IAB/ZEW Workshop in Mannheim, the 3rd Experimental Methods in Policy Conference in Ixtapa 2016, the 2016 Colloquium on Personnel Economics in Aachen, the 2016 IMEBESS Conference in Rome, the 2016 Annual Meeting of the SOLE in Seattle, the 2016 Annual Meeting of the ESPE in Berlin, the 2016 Annual Meeting of the German Economic Association in Augsburg, the 2016 EALE Conference in Ghent, the 2017 LISER-LAB Inaugural Workshop in Esch-sur-Alzette, and seminar participants at U Lüneburg, U Trier and of the Berlin Network of Labor Market Researchers for helpful suggestions. We thank the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Berlin (Industrie- und Handelskammer) for collaborating with the employer survey. Furthermore, we thank Martin Amann and Ruth Regnauer for providing excellent research assistance with the field experiment and Maximilian Hiller for excellent support with the survey experiment.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Control, Effort choice, Field experiment, Smartphone ban, Trust, Workplace behavior
  • Economics