Smartphone

Put the smartphone down: It'll be okay

June 21, 2012: 10:26 AM ET

A small but growing number of companies are encouraging their staff to take time off from their BlackBerrys and smartphones or reduce their dependence on email.

Updated 6/21/2012 4:51 p.m.

By Gary M. Stern

FORTUNE -- Has 24/7 access gone too far? A small but growing number of companies are encouraging their staff to take time off from their BlackBerrys and smartphones or reduce their dependence on email. No one disputes that these gadgets help staffers stay connected to coworkers and clients, but constant connection can lead to exhaustion and a decrease in productivity.

Seeing that his staff felt that they needed to be accessible 24/7 seven days a week back in 2007, Sam Chapman, CEO of Empower Public Relations, a 25-employee Chicago-based PR firm, cut the smartphone cord. He established a BlackBerry Blackout Policy, which prohibited the company's staff from answering calls or emails from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and from Friday night to Monday morning. Empower went cold turkey on electronic gadgets after work except for the "once a year emergency," he said.

Chapman says that his agency is thriving and attributes some of its success to having an energized staff, not an overburdened one. "When staff is at work, they're focused. When they're off, they take a break and recover," he said.

When Chapman was out to dinner with his family, he could feel the BlackBerry vibrating in his jacket pocket, insisting to be answered. "Now I turn everything off. It's good for my family and my psyche," he said.

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Clients have adjusted to not being able to reach Empower's staff after working hours. Most consider the break healthy and only try to reach staff if a legitimate emergency arises, said Chapman.

Moreover, the move has boosted retention. Empower PR has lost one person annually over the last few years. By comparison, several years ago, back when the firm had 10 or fewer employees, it was losing 50% of its staff every year. Chapman also says he now can recruit talented workers who seek a break from 24/7 availability. More

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