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Are "phone shy" workers damaging business?

10 September 2013

Younger workers may have mastered some newer technologies but research shows that many workers lack one important skill that could be causing problems for business.

The generation brought up using mobile phones is also the generation that is least likely to answer or use the phone while at work, according to a new study from communications business Daisy Group.

The study of 2,000 office workers, found 53 per cent of workers prefer to conduct most of their business over email wherever possible, while one in six people choose to ignore incoming calls on the work landline – unless it is unavoidable. The survey found younger employees were the most phone shy, with a third of 18 to 24 year olds saying they avoided using the landline at work altogether, preferring to interact over email.

Lack of confidence was a significant factor in respondents' communication choices as a quarter of those surveyed cited this as a reason for not using the phone. This trend spanned all age groups and workers stated that as a result, only six calls each day are made from desk phones. The most common fears of using the phone at work include not knowing who is on the other end, fear of being caught off guard and the uncertainty of whether they will be able to assist the caller.

Stephanie Shih, 27, says phone calls are an interruption. The brand marketing manager at Paperless Post does not have a work phone. Nor do the majority of her colleagues. The company says that not having individual phone lines in open-plan areas protects people from unwanted calls, which can interrupt conversations.

Besides, says Ms Shih, phones seem "outdated." She takes scheduled work calls once or twice a week. "Even my dentist's office texts me because they know phone calls can be burdensome," she wrote in an email.

Kevin Castle, a 32-year-old Chief Technology Officer at Technossus, says calling someone without emailing first can make it seem as though you are prioritising your needs over theirs. Workers at the business rely mainly on email to communicate, which helps bridge the time difference with the company's offices in India, he says.

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Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer, says the issue of phone aversion frequently comes up in her project management training sessions. One of her clients, a manager at a large utility company, recently had to teach his young employee what a dial tone was and explain that desktop phones do not require you to press "Send."

Andrew Goldwater, Commercial Director at Daisy Group, which conducted the research, said:

"Increasingly, people are shying away from human contact in the office, particularly younger workers, and we're starting to see the demise of the business landline and traditional office phone as a result.

"Today's younger office workers are far more tech savvy having been exposed to major advancements in mobile and online communications, which has in turn removed the need to use a traditional communications methods such as the desk phone."

However, many of those who contributed to the research gave examples of where telephone communication was far preferable; to avoid misinterpretation of an email for example, or when building rapport with a client.

Technology entrepreneur, Jason Nazar says his company has missed out on potential new recruits because his gen-Y employees schedule interviews by email, rather than phoning applicants, "If you can do something more quickly and more efficiently by using older technology, then do it," said Mr Nazar, who is Chief Executive of Docstoc.

Employers may need to provide extra training or "call coaching" to any phone shy team members. This may also be an area to be tackled in job descriptions and interviews when selecting new recruits.

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