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THE INC. LIFE

Do I Really Have to Get a Smartphone for Work?

If you don’t want a smartphone and your employer says you need one, what can you do?

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BY Alison Green - 03 Dec 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I currently have an older cell phone (not a smart phone) for personal use. I have texting and voicemail. Although I am under 30, I am comfortable with this decision and I have never had the need for a smart phone. I enjoy this phone because it's durable, cheap, and convenient. It makes calls, receives them, and works as an alarm clock, and that's really all I need. I do have my phone on me at all times like the next person, but I don't hear it ring when I am out walking my dog or at the store. However, I do return calls promptly after I see I've missed them.

A few months ago, I was promoted and moved to another department. Recently, after a vacation I took, my manager brought me into her office to mention her belief that I need a smartphone. She said her and other employees are aware that I have an outdated phone and said it is necessary that I have a smartphone so I can be available to check emails at all times and be reachable.

She asked if it was a cost issue, which I said that it was (although it is also the belief that I don't really need one). I didn't specify, but in my head I thought how my phone costs $30/month and a data plan/new phone plan can cost around $100/month, and would also require a case for durability and possibly other phone accessories. She said there is another manager in the office who has an old iPhone available for me to have, and would only require the new plan hookup. She said she'd talk to corporate about getting the phone plan paid for, but she said it would probably be difficult, since I am still fairly entry-level and "if we get yours paid for, other employees will want theirs to be paid for as well."

I don't believe I need a smartphone. I have internet at home and a cell phone with text and voicemail. Worst-case scenario, an employee can contact me to let me know an important email chain from a client needs to be responded to.

I also am concerned that having this work phone would make them think I am available 24/7, even on weekends. On weekends or on vacation, I would love to be able to leave this phone behind or off, but I guess that would defeat the purpose of them providing it to me.

My worry is that she will come back to say "corporate won't let us pay for it." I don't think it will come to this, as I've been recently been promoted and (hopefully) am in good graces, but I would hate for them to fire me over my refusal to increase my cell bill by $70/month to get a smart phone. My medical bills recently increased and I am not making very much, so this would definitely impact my budget.

I work in the media industry where there are tight deadlines and occasional weekend work. I am not in the level that directly contacts clients, so the concern of meeting their needs is filtered through my managers, then to me. Since I occasionally work weekends or very late nights (had a 70-hour work week last month), I enjoy having weekend time to myself and vacation time when I request it. What are your thoughts?

Green responds:

I think there are two issues here: whether you really need a smartphone to do your job and whether you need to check email outside of regular work hours.

There are some roles that do truly require checking email on evenings and weekends, and many of them are in your industry so it's possible that it's the case here ... although most of those roles don't require a smartphone to do it; you can check email just as well from a computer. The only roles that truly should require a smartphone are ones where you need to check email so often outside of work hours that it needs to travel with you to restaurants, movies, and other outings. Otherwise, a computer suffices.

Given that distinction, I wonder if this is less about what device you're using and more about "we feel like you're more disconnected than everyone else" ... which may or may not be rooted in a legitimate work need.

In talking to your manager, I'd get clarity around that distinction. Is she really saying you need a smartphone, or is she saying you need to check email more in your off hours? And if she's saying the latter, then you can explore how necessary that really is.

I'd say something like this: "I've actually been really deliberate in not having a smartphone. Part of the reason is the cost -- increasing my cell bill by $70/month isn't trivial -- but part is also philosophical. I think you know I'm highly responsive and available outside of regular hours when I need to be, but it's important to me to me to have space on evenings and weekends when I can disconnect. I am absolutely willing to be called or texted in case of an emergency, but even with a smartphone, I'd likely turn email off on weekends because I believing in taking time to recharge. So I don't think changing my phone is the answer; it sounds like what I need to get more clarity on is how often you want me to be checking email during off hours -- whether it's from a phone or from a computer."

You're likely to get one of two responses: Your boss might tell you that you do need to be checking email more often during off hours, in which case that's the issue to explore here, not what technology you use to do it. Or you might get a vaguer answer -- if your boss doesn't actually think you need to check email X times per weekend but just has a hazy feeling of discomfort that you're not more connected.

The vaguer answer is harder to deal with. At that point, it's a judgment call about how much your boss is really going to push it, what kind of rapport you have with her, and whether your relationship will allow you to push back.

But if it's a more concrete response that, yes, this job does require checking email round the clock, then you have three options:

1. Push back about why and see if one of you changes your mind. To push back, you might try pointing out that you've only been needed outside of work hours once in the last X weeks (or whatever is true).

2. Present other ways to achieving whatever her objective is in that, like asking if people can call or text you if something is urgent. (The latter is only reasonable if urgent things come up infrequently; it wouldn't be reasonable to request if you were, say, a communications director for a high-profile company that regularly fields after-hours media requests.)

3. Or, if she won't budge, then what she's telling you is that this job does require this kind of availability. If that's the case, you might need to decide if it's a job you want, under those conditions.

But I don't think any of this is really about smartphones. It's about how plugged in you are, by any means.

 

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

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