A generation of gadget addicted executives who write texts in meetings and sneak off to the toilet to check Facebook, is undermining the efficiency of the modern workplace, say experts.
Lulled by one-click smartphone access to social networking, this new wave of badly-behaved executives is unable to maintain their focus in the real world, even during work meetings, according to a Telstra survey.
Although the study found that men were more likely to check their phones during a meeting, women were twice as likely to excuse themselves from a meeting to visit the bathroom and then check email or Facebook updates instead.
In total, 51.7 per cent of respondents confessed to secretly checking their phone during a meeting, but far more disturbing was the finding that many didn't even bother leaving the meeting room at all, said etiquette expert Anna Musson, who worked with Telstra on the study.
One in five of those surveyed admitted to answering their phone, and one in ten to browsing social networking sites, while meetings were taking place. Telstra has branded these employees 'monkeys' because of their 'I See I Do' personality which makes it tough to ignore the phone.
"With the immediate accessibility of smartphones - just because you can take an email in a meeting doesn't mean that you should. Are you such a poor time manager that you can't put your phone away for 30 minutes?" said Musson.
Christine Pearson, an author and professor of international business at the US Thunderbird School of Global Management, said she believed the practice of using phones during meetings was fast becoming standard across many organisations.
"When I travel internationally, I ask audiences their thoughts about e-mail and texting during meetings. About 70 to 80 per cent find it disrespectful and distracting; about 50 per cent admit to doing it regularly, nonetheless," she said.
Pearson, who co-authored a book last year called The Cost of Bad Behaviour, believes electronic devices lead to greater incivility at work because of their powerful claim on our attention - regardless of what we are doing.
Although it may seem like 'no harm done' when everyone around you is doing it, she warned it could ultimately lead to higher turnover and stress levels, and lower job satisfaction, creativity and cooperation.
"Distraction is costly - and spreads quickly so that others begin to behave in similarly ineffective ways," she said.
Telstra said more than a third of the mobiles it sells are now smartphones, with mobile Facebook usage tripling in the past year.
And although half of its 1023 respondents (aged from 18 to 65) admitted to having poor phone etiquette on occasion, over a third nominated the practise of using phones during work meetings as the most annoying.
Musson said the problem was becoming so widespread that organisations should consider introducing etiquette guidelines for mobile use.
"If you answer a phone while talking to [someone], what can be more rude than that? The key message is the person in front of you always takes precedence," she said.
However members of an online chat forum that discusses popular culture, were split on the issue of mobiles in meetings. While most were firmly against it, some had other ideas.
"If I get a text during a meeting, I'll check it quickly and if it's important (work related) I'll excuse myself to answer it. I am often on call, and would be reprimanded for not answering a text," wrote one.
Others said they had no qualms updating their Facebook status during meetings because they spent most of their days holed up in them.
"I think it really depends how much of your attention is really required at that time. If you're really only required to be there in body, go to it ... just turn all your settings to silent first"
Another wrote: "Some of these meetings are really a waste of your time, so I either put myself on mute and prefer to be bored yet constructive . . . or blow off steam via FB. I see no problem with that."
Musson said another notable breach of work etiquette was using text messages to cancel an appointments or call in sick. Telstra's survey revealed one in five respondents said they had at one time or another, texted to say they weren't coming into work.
Smartphone tips from the experts
-If you are having a face to face discussion and important call comes in, always ask: "do you mind if I answer this?"
-If you are in a meeting and exceptional circumstances dictate you must answer your phone (if are on call) explain in advance why you may be slipping out and if appropriate, how the group should continue in your absence.
-If you leave your phone at your desk, turn it to silent so it doesn't bother working colleagues, and avoid conducting personal calls while sitting at your desk.
-Don't text a colleague or manager to say you must cancel a meeting, unless it has been stipulated beforehand as means of communication.
-Always use words in full in texts and emails rather than popular abbreviations.
-Ask ahead of time about the appropriate way to contact a colleague out of hours.
-Think before you post - pictures of friends or colleagues misbehaving on Facebook may end up being seen by important professional contacts.