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When cell phones become a problem in the workplace

Question: The issue of employee cell phones is driving me crazy.

Question: The issue of employee cell phones is driving me crazy. I manage a small medical clinic with 15 staff members who interact with patients all day. Initially, I trusted them to use good judgment about personal calls, but that didn't work. Next, I asked them not to carry cell phones unless they were expecting an important call. Suddenly, every call became "important." Because these constant interruptions are unacceptable in a medical facility, I recently announced that cell phones must be kept in employees' lockers except during breaks and lunch. Now I'm getting so many complaints that I'm tempted to ban the phones altogether.

Answer: Actually, phone calls are probably just the tip of this iceberg. Since most people now have smartphones, employees are undoubtedly being distracted by texts, instant messages and various social networking sites as well. While this multitasking may pose no problem in some work settings, in others it can be dangerous or even deadly. For that reason, cell phone policies should be tailored to the needs of each specific workplace. In your case, requiring medical staffers to stash their phones during office hours is a perfectly sensible requirement. However, banning them from the building would not be reasonable, since that would cut people off from their families.

In case of emergency, you do need to ensure that these phone-deprived folks can be easily reached, so provide a clinic number that will always be answered by an actual person. No frightened child or distraught parent should ever have to deal with a lengthy phone menu ending in a voice-mail message.


Q: I was recently fired from my job as a food server after a customer complained. This woman said that I was rude and impolite, but I was actually trying to make a joke that had seemed to amuse other customers. However, the owner didn't see it that way, so he let me go. Now I'm not sure how to explain this situation when I apply for other jobs. I want to be honest, but I don't believe I did anything wrong. My immediate supervisor has said he thinks the world of me and will give me a good reference.

A: While you are under no obligation to volunteer negative information, any routine background check will quickly uncover the terms of your departure. So if you still have a civil relationship with the owner, find out whether he would be willing to call this a resignation. If not, then you should just give interviewers a simple explanation.

For example: "In my previous position, there was a misunderstanding with the owner about a comment I made to a guest. I was trying to be funny, but I have now learned that joking with customers is not a good idea. However, my immediate supervisor will be glad to talk with you about the quality of my work."

Under these circumstances, your supervisor's recommendation may be the golden ticket that ultimately gets you hired. Once you land that new job, you should at least send him a thank-you card.



Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.


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