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Always Connected - November 2016

Lean into the popularity of mobile devices to create staff policies that stick

by Keith Miller

In recent years, the proliferation of mobile devices has made them the dominant—and often most addictive—form of human communication. For attractions, the use of devices by employees presents enormous challenges, not the least of which are issues of safety and attentiveness to guest needs.

At Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Virginia, the use of personal mobile devices on the job is restricted to breaks and meal periods, as at most attractions. “We require associates to focus 100 percent of their attention on carrying out their tasks without any unnecessary distractions,” says Katelyn Sherwood, the park’s communications manager. “Additionally, we want our associates to focus on providing excellent customer service and one-on-one interactions with our guests. If associates are using their cell phones, this is a distraction that takes away from the guest experience.”

Gardaland theme park in Verona, Italy, has a similar policy regarding mobile devices, and Danilo Santi, the park’s general manager, provides specifics of how their use interferes with employee tasks: “Distractions are dangerous. A personal device is an element of distraction from duties. We have [employees] who must [operate] machines, use equipment, and handle money, so they need to remain focused. Also, maintaining high standards in terms of guest experience, minimizing risks, and, most importantly, keeping their hands free to carry out duties.”

Gain Buy-In

According to industry consultant Matt Heller, founder of Performance Optimist Consulting, the manner in which policies are developed, implemented, communicated to employees, and enforced is crucial to the level of buy-in attractions receive from workers. Also, rigid prohibition might actually be causing these attractions to miss out on serving guests.

Buy-in from employees is important to both their attitudes about the policy and observance of it. Says Heller, “Buy-in comes from a number of areas: understanding why the policy exists and why it’s important to the company, the guest, and other employees; an appreciation for how the policy impacts the individual employee; and consistent and uniform enforcement of the policy.”

Before presenting the policy to employees, an attraction should create a plan and gain commitment from leadership concerning how it will be communicated and enforced. Talking about it in an orientation session and adding a section to an employee handbook are not enough.

A part of relaying the policy to staff and gaining buy-in is having clearly stated ramifications if the policy is violated. At Fun Spot America in Orlando, “If an employee has their cell phone with them in the park, the employee is suspended for a week,” says Jennifer Collier, director of human resources. “The second occurrence is a 30-day suspension, and the third occurrence is termination.”

Heller asserts enforcement must be impartial and consistent; otherwise, if employees see others getting away with breaking the policy, they’ll wonder why they must abide by it. Also, when the policy is enforced, supervision should explain the “why” behind it.

At some attractions, like Enchanted Kingdom in Makati City, Philippines, a few employees are allowed to use their personal devices on the job. “The nature of work defines whether the employee may carry/use his/her personal mobile device at work,” says Desiree D. Beldad, Ph.D., head of human resource management and administrative services at the park. “Only supervisors and management are permitted to carry and use personal mobile devices while at work.”

The Phone’s Fault?

Heller says allowing employees to use phones during break periods, as Kings Dominion does, can be a good compromise. But he submits that the desire to use them on the job may be getting a bad rap: “I think the bigger issue is why they feel the need to jump on their phones at any given moment. Our mobile devices have become a lifeline to other people. It’s our way to connect instantly with the world and the people around us. The good news is employees do want to connect, so why not get them to connect with you?”

Heller reasons employees will be less likely to reach for their phones if attractions create a compelling work experience. Employees should feel connected to and involved in the company, he says, and they should also feel strongly linked to the guests in front of them, to the mission of the company, and to the other employees around them.

“The [mobile] phone has made it easy to connect with others,” Heller says. “It’s also made it easy for employers to blame the phone for not being able to engage their employees. But it’s not the phone’s fault. I think many employers have bought into the hype of shorter attention spans and a lower work ethic in their young workers. I’ve seen first hand how if you engage hearts and minds, and if you give them something to care about and show that you care about them, they will not only pay attention for a long time, but they will also work really hard for you.”

Though every age group uses phones, there is one demographic with whom they’re most dominant. “It’s mainly young people,” says Santi, “even if it looks like it’s become a popular status symbol for every age group.”

But Heller compares today’s youth on mobile devices to middle-aged or elderly couples 20 years ago sitting at a restaurant both reading different sections of a newspaper. “How is that any different from two teens sitting across from each other engrossed in their phones?” he asks. “It’s not. Same human nature, just different technology.”

A New Approach

Though most employees are prohibited from using their own mobile devices while working, everyone contacted for this story allows employees to carry two-way radios to communicate with one another and supervisors. Further, as Sherwood acknowledges, policies regarding mobile devices have had to change over time.

“Electronic devices have been around for a long time, from pagers to cell phones to smartphones to smartwatches,” she says. “We have had policies on electronic devices for many years, and these policies have evolved over time as the devices and [their use] has changed.”

Heller suggests it might be time for policy to change again—in a more radical way. He says with the amount of information employees need to have at their fingertips and the importance of quick communication, it’s possibly time to rethink prohibiting use of personal devices, or even a company-issued phone or tablet. He recalls a recent trip to a hardware warehouse where he asked an employee the location of a certain item. She pulled out a smartphone, checked an app, and was able to tell him the exact aisle. She didn’t work in that department, yet was able to help immediately.

“With a smartphone-type device, employees would potentially have access to a map, the weather, line wait times, etc.,” he says. “They could even send information right to a guest’s phone at that very moment. Imagine a greeter at an attraction being able to tell guests where they can purchase a gluten-free meal or what time the show starts in the amphitheater. The possibilities for increased levels of service really are endless if we take the time to rethink how we would enforce and support the use of such devices.”

Parental Control

Restricting use of employees’ personal mobile devices while at work is trickier when dealing with minors. Parents might insist on being able to reach their child at any time. Matt Heller of Performance Optimist Consulting suggests:  “You need to provide an alternate way for Mom and Dad to contact them. Maybe there is a central phone number for the park or department they can call in an emergency, or even give them a manager’s cell number. You then need a process to get that message to the employee and provide the opportunity to call back, if needed.”

He also suggests explaining to parents their child is working, which takes concentration and commitment—the child won’t perform well if answering calls throughout the day.

Contact News Editor Keith Miller at kmiller@IAAPA.org.