Managers give thumbs down to checking messages during business meetings

Let’s face it; we’ve all checked our smartphones during a meeting. According to many, this behaviour is not appropriate during business meetings. Sixty-one per cent of managers recently surveyed by Robert Half Management Resources said it’s at least somewhat common for professionals to read and respond to messages on mobile devices during business meetings. Four per cent of respondents said this is perfectly acceptable.

The survey is based on interviews with more than 300 managers from a random sample of Canadian companies. Managers were asked, “In your experience, how common is it for professionals you work with to read and respond to messages on their mobile devices during business meetings”.

Their responses:

Very common 18%

Somewhat common 43%

Somewhat uncommon 23%

Very uncommon 15%

Don’t know 2%


Respondents were then asked, “Which one of the following most closely describes your reaction when professionals read and respond to messages during business meetings?”

Their responses:

42% - It’s never OK. Smartphone devices should be turned off or not brought to the meeting at all

28% - It’s OK to read and respond to messages during the meeting, but only if the message is urgent

25% - It’s OK to check messages as long as attendees excuse themselves and step outside the meeting to respond

4% - It’s perfectly acceptable to read and respond to messages during the meeting, especially at

a time when what is being said doesn’t pertain to them

Total = 99%*

*Numbers do not total 100 per cent due to rounding

“Checking email while in meetings may seem harmless, but doing so could reflect badly on you in front of your colleagues and managers,” said David King, Canadian president of Robert Half Management Resources. “While typing away on your device, your non-verbal cue may be that something is more important than the people sitting in the room with you, which could be viewed as disrespectful to colleagues.”

“Meetings are a great way to encourage collaboration and generate ideas, but having your attention divided might mean you miss the opportunity to provide your input and add value to the conversation,” King added.

Here are five tips to keep meeting attendees focused on the discussion instead of their devices:

1. Establish expectations. Develop a well-defined list of ground rules when it comes to using mobile devices in meetings. This will ensure employees understand if and when these tools can be used and whether they should be shut off or set to silent.

2. Model the right behaviour. As managers, you set the tone for how employees engage or disengage during meetings. Make sure that everyone sticks to the ground rules.

3. Use your tools. Use auto responses so people know when you’re in a meeting and won’t expect immediate responses.

4. Keep participants engaged. People commonly turn to other activities during meetings because they’re bored or restless. Determine if the meeting is necessary or if the goal could be accomplished more efficiently another way.

5. Check staff members’ workloads. You may find some employees are on email in meetings because that’s the only time they can be. For individuals facing heavier-than normal workloads, reassign some of their tasks and bring in additional support as needed.