From the Oscars to the Oval Office, tweeting and texting at work is catching flak

This week’s workplace lesson: Step away from your smartphone.

After a managing partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers gave Warren Beatty the wrong envelope at the Academy Awards on Sunday evening, resulting in the Best Picture being temporarily awarded to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight,” that Brian Cullinan, one of two PwC partners working backstage at the show, had reportedly tweeted a photo of Emma Stone after she received her Oscar for Best Actress. He has since deleted that tweet, which was caught in a screen-grab by other Twitter users. (PwC did not respond to request to comment, except to apologize for the envelope mix-up.)

And President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was criticized by some media outlets and on social media on Tuesday for kneeling on a sofa with her shoes on in the Oval Office while representatives from several historically black colleges and universities met the president. In one photo, she is seen leaning over holding her smartphone aloft to take a photograph. (A spokeswoman for Trump’s office did not respond to request for comment.) Conway has already been taken to task after using the term “alternative facts” during a TV interview and recommending Americans buy Ivanka Trump’s products, a potential ethics violation.

But those incidents obscured more fundamental questions. Why is a senior White House staff taking a photo when there is an official White House photographer? And why is a senior manager at PwC tweeting photos backstage at the Oscars during the awards ceremony?

“Distracted working has become the distracted driving in the workplace,” says Steve Langerud, workplace consultant and principal of Steve Langerud & Associates in Grinnell, Iowa.“My clients ask regularly about how to manage employees who text at work.”

While major gaffes like Sunday’s mix-up of Best Picture are, “the bigger issue is how present employees are at work,” Langerud says.

Indeed, one in five employers think that employees are productive fewer than five hours a day, with most citing smartphone use as the culprit, a 2016 CareerBuilder report of hiring managers found.

Despite repeated warnings, people still get fired for sending an inappropriate photo or tweet. The problem with sites like Twitter and Instagram is that immediacy and informality are also social media’s greatest dangers, experts say. And in many cases, there’s no turning back once you hit “send” and there are plenty of reasons not to.

Five workers on a dam in Oroville, Calif., were fired two weeks ago for taking photos of the dam and posting them on Instagram despite a strict no social media and no photos policy at the site.

There’s a growing body of research supporting “nomophobia” — the fear of being without your cellphone. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say they couldn’t go a day without their smartphone, according to a 2014 Bank of America survey.

In fairness to American workers, it’s a double-edged sword: They’re often times encouraged to tweet and maintain an active social media presence. And employees, particularly those who are in the public eye, are often judged by how many followers they have on Twitter when they apply for jobs. The role social media plays in workers’ lives is “not always clear-cut,” the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., found.

Meanwhile, younger workers are more likely than their older counterparts to say they have discovered information about a colleague on social media that has lowered and improved their professional opinion of them. And one-third of employees said they use social media to take a “mental break” from their job.

“We’re in this weird time where most organizations have yet to figure out how we should be coaching our employees on the use of social media and their smartphone as it relates to their job,” says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. “On one side, we want our employees to share a transparent view of our work environment and employment brand. On the other side, we want them to focus on the job they were hired to do.”

PwC’s Cullinan backstage Twitter activity wasn’t sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Wall Street Journal reported, but there’s been no word about whether he will be fired. For his part, Cullinan has not sent a Tweet or photograph since.

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