Merge's Blog

Nomophobia. Should leaders be concerned?


Nomophobia.  Ever had that moment when you’ve left the house and are on your way to your destination when you suddenly realize you left your mobile device on the hallway table, or plugged in and charging on the kitchen counter?  Yeah, that moment when your palms and brow break out in a sweat, or your heart starts to beat faster, or your anxiety level goes up (or all of the above!).  I mean, what if someone tries to call you while you’re out, or if you need to look up something on Google, or an important email comes in?  How will you cope?!

Okay, sure, I write this a little tongue-in-cheek, but also because it’s not that unusual, it’s happened to the best of us.  What may surprise you though is that this is actually a thing – it has a name – nomophobia (no mo-bile phobia).  It is a real condition, described as the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason, such as the absence of a signal or running out of minutes or battery power.  And recent research out of HEC Montreal indicates that nomophobia can lead to chronic stress and reduced job performance.

So what should leaders do?

So what should a leader do to mitigate the negative effects of nomophobia?  Well, I can think of two directions to pursue.  The first approach comes from the recent study.  The research team suggests that anything that managers can do to help employees reduce uncertainty and increase their feeling of control is a good idea.  So, if possible, let your employees either have periodic access to their devices (say at predetermined times during a full-day no-technology meeting) or let them know how long they won’t have access to them.

While I don’t disagree with the value in the first approach, I would like to suggest a second.  What if we just helped our employees cope better with periods without their smartphones?  Could we “immunize” our people by instituting regular no-technology periods so that their tolerance to nomophobia increases?  Is it possible that routine low doses of device-free periods will help people deal with full-blown no-technology situations?  So for example, perhaps start with no mobile devices permitted at the weekly Tuesday meeting.  These short periods will help people cope with situations when they have to operate at longer periods without their mobile phones.

I think it my approach might not be a bad idea!  But I’d love to hear your opinion.  What do you think?  Soften the blow by reducing uncertainty and increasing perceived control?  Or build up immunity with short periods of no-tech?  Or is nomophobia something that we should even care about?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

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