What is ‘phubbing’ and how does our obsession with our phones interfere with our relationships?

You know when your partner concentrates on their phone, ignoring you in the process, something called “phubbing” (phone snubbing)? Well, it doesn’t just stop you connecting with each other and strain your relationship.

Much worse, it affects women’s creativity while doing their jobs in the workplace.

A study from Bath University, Aston, and IESE Business School sheds light on the negative effects of phubbing, such as its detrimental impact on relationships and mental wellbeing. A new study of working couples in the US points to repercussions in the workplace as well, but only for female partners.

“Phone usage is eroding the ­connection between couples and hindering their capacity to discuss and address stresses and concerns that are playing on their mind,” said Professor Yasin Rofcanin from the University of Bath’s Future of Work research centre.

He adds: “Supportive interactions at home have a positive crossover effect on partners, enhancing their creativity in the workplace. However, this spiral of support is lost when individuals are absorbed in phone scrolling, missing out on these valuable moments of connection.”

Phubbing actually disrupts how a couple balances work and family responsibilities. Analysis of diary entries spanning 15 working days, from 65 full-time, dual-income heterosexual couples with children, in the US, reveals that phone use is disrupting social interaction and the support couples usually provide each other.

It’s a two-way street. Supportive interactions with co-workers extend to the home environment, benefiting partners in loving relationships and contributing to enhanced creativity in the workplace.

However, it works only for women. Researchers say women seem more adept at translating this support into workplace creativity, possibly because expectations on women to juggle home and work push them to pursue support networks and seek out family friendly work policies.

The support spiral enables women to be more resourceful at work – to engage in proactive “job-crafting” that enhances job satisfaction, such as seeking out new challenges, building stronger relationships with colleagues, and choosing a positive perspective on their role, which all contribute to enhanced creativity at work.

As organisations navigate post-pandemic working arrangements, Prof Rofcanin believes “it’s crucial to consider the impact of home dynamics on employee productivity and wellbeing”.

The researchers hope their findings will help employers to be flexible about using technology for working out of hours, and to support work-family balance with flexible working schedules.

Dr Siqi Wang from Aston Business School summarises: “In fostering a supportive work-family environment, close collaboration between HR managers and employees’ first-line supervisors is essential. Employers can benefit from work-family training programmes emphasizing communication and limiting technology use, particularly for work purposes.”