Teens spend nearly a third of their day texting, swiping, posting, clicking, and scrolling on their screens—with much of this time on smartphones. This finding from a 2019 Common Sense Media study doesn’t even include the hours spent for school or homework.
Prying those thumbs from their glowing screens can be tricky—but wholly necessary—for the success of family entertainment center (FEC) owners and operators.
The clear No. 1 reason? Safety.
“If employees are looking at their phones, they’re not paying attention to the guests, and they’re definitely not paying attention to the rides,” says Jennifer Collier, director of human resources for the three Fun Spot Attractions in the Southern United States. “They need to have their heads on a swivel. We have a 10/20 policy. They have 10 seconds to survey an area and 20 seconds to get to an area. They couldn’t do that if they were checking their phones or texts. If they need to have a cell phone on them, this is not the industry for them.”
The distraction that comes with phones also flies contrary to the core values at Autobahn Indoor Speedway, which features high-speed indoor go-karts and ax throwing. Along with becoming a safety issue, phones can decrease customer service and the chance for return visits.
“It becomes a dissatisfier if employees are on their phone and guests feel like they need attention and aren’t getting it,” says David Larson, managing partner for Autobahn’s 10 U.S. venues.
Larson and Collier shared with Funworld how they encourage team members to put down their smartphones while at work and share their FECs’ policies, penalties, and exceptions.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Both companies have a clear blanket policy at all their locations for staff: They can’t have the phones—as well as smartwatches—in their possession while on the clock. That means these devices must stay in their breakroom lockers, cars, or at home, not shoved in their pocket just out of sight.
However, the rules allow for some exceptions and wiggle room. For example, supervisors and above at Autobahn hold onto their phones for data-collection purposes. “They use them for real-time reporting that helps them make management decisions,” Larson explains.
Autobahn front-line staff also may carry their phones in case of an emergency—say a family member is sick or undergoing surgery during the shift, he notes. The employee first needs to be upfront and gain permission with the manager on duty.
For urgent situations impacting Fun Spot staffers, their family or friends can dial the company’s call center, Collier says. Multiple managers walk the grounds, and about 80% of staff carry walkie-talkies; reaching employees quickly won’t be an issue.
“Within 10 to 15 seconds, we can get a hold of that person,” she says, acknowledging the need to balance the needs of staff and customers. “It’s crazy how attached we are to our phones. We understand that and try to alleviate the pain of our employees, but at the same time, take care of our guests.”
Three Strikes and You’re Out
Both companies also define the phone policies immediately and have similar penalties for any violations.
“We talk about it, and they sign documents to acknowledge they understand it,” Collier says. “If you explain to them why these rules are so important, they will be more likely to buy into them. I don’t want to set up anyone for failure.”
At Fun Spot, the first offense equals a seven-day suspension, the second transgression runs to a 30-day suspension, and the employee will be terminated after the third violation. With Autobahn, employees first receive a verbal warning, a written warning next, and then let go after No. 3.
Just one person has reached that final strike in the history of the policy at Fun Spot, and last year, three people served the one-week suspension, Collier says. She adds Fun Spot staff occasionally space out and inadvertently leave the breakroom with their phone in their pocket. For these honest mistakes, they won’t be disciplined.
“We err on the side of the employees,” she says.
Autobahn, too, boasts few rule-breakers. In part, that comes from the open and honest communication between management and staff, and among employees themselves.
“We encourage our team members to hold everyone accountable for everything—and that’s not just cell phone policy,” Larson says. “It’s my hope that if one employee saw another employee with a phone out, they would say, ‘Hey, you can’t be doing that.’ That would be the end of it, and they would realize they made a mistake.”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected].