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What's Up With Bosses Checking Their Phones While Talking To You?

According to our poll, half of bosses do it.

Posted on August 26, 2015, at 12:00 p.m. ET

20th Century Fox / Via

Recently, BuzzFeed ran a poll to find out how people use their phones at work which asked questions about what kind of unspoken etiquette goes on. The most surprising finding was the marked difference in how workers use their phones around the bosses and vice versa.

Of course, workplaces vary so much that core things about using your phone may differ – taking personal calls might fly if you have a private office but not if you're working in an open office or a service industry. But one trend seemed to be clear: phone etiquette is linked to where you are on the totem pole of your workplace.

86% the respondents said they would NOT look at their phone while talking to their boss. Yet almost half said their boss checks her phone while talking to them.

This makes sense, right? That's just how it is in the relations between the Worker and Capital. Management has certain privileges in social transactions with labor. That's as old as the Ford assembly line.

What's new here are the phones. It's just been in the past few years that smartphones have inundated the workplace. We're still as a society conflicted on the etiquette of using phones in public and socially – something as seemingly obvious as whether or not it's ok to check your phone during sex is, apparently, still up for debate. And while smartphone etiquette in the workplace may still be getting hammered out, a consensus seems to be emerging in who can use them during interpersonal situations. (Short answer: bosses.)

Now, this BuzzFeed poll isn't exactly scientific (although it DOES have a huge sample size — almost 20,000 people responded to these two questions). We also don't know all that much about the people answering, although it's safe to guess that it's mostly younger people, reflecting BuzzFeed's general reader demographics. Which means many of the people responding may even be in their first or second real job, dealing with an older, less clued in on smartphone etiquette, boss.

Ultimately, who knows how to handle these things? It's weird! Just try to be polite out there, people!


49% of people said their bosses look at their phones while talking them, and 86% said they would not do the same while talking to their boss. An earlier version mixed up these statistics.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

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A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.