Modern day irritations - is it a public sector issue?

Over the last couple of weeks we have been discussing engagement in our organisation and alongside this revisiting the values and behaviours of the organisation with a view to shifting the culture of the organisation.

One of the things that has struck me is people's obsession with accessing their emails in meetings, workshops, etc. I have been to several meetings internally and workshops externally and mainly senior managers (although not exclusively) appear pre-occupied with their blackberries, ipads, etc in terms of reading and responding to emails

Some try to do it inconspicuously whilst others are more brazen and the worst exponents seem to have their say in discussions and then return to their blackberry as if any other contribution apart from theirs is not worth listening to.

I must admit that not only this is really irritating but also rude and disrespectful and I do wonder how people coped before modern day technology especially the services these people left behind whilst in meetings and workshops as it appears they must be in constant contact with their office/service otherwise the world will stop turning!!

I am sure there are other more important issues that irritate people but I do feel better now – thank you!!


  • HI Jon

    Whilst I dont disagree with you I think its today's way of life and that customer's expectations are ever increasing therefore increasing the pressure on managers and colleagues.  However we also spend a lot of the time reading emails etc when maybe a quick phone call would achieve far greater results and get to know that person better!

    I work in logistics and whenever I hold workshops I ask colleagues that I am aware that they have operations to run but to have their phones on silent and to take calls outside of the room if they need to.  At senior managment meetings yes blackberrys etc do go off but management do tend to remain focused on the meeting in hand.

    When trying to engage others though seeing managers constantly on their phones does not send necessarily send the right message across and I for one dont really have any hesitiation in raising it as part of the workshop I may be running.

    Either way there are pros and cons - its how we manage it thats important and thats where we can sometimes fall down. It took me many years to learn to manage my time appropriately such as when to read emails.  I now do this first thing in the morning, then again a couple of hour later and so on -otherwise I could spend all my working day reading emails and not getting any other work done!!!  And to be honest this does not always work.  Maybe when managers are in meetings etc this is the only time they have to catch up on those important emails/texts etc!

  • There are two ways of looking at this behaviour. One is that it's rude and the other is that it's signalling that people think the meetings are unimportant or they fell they don't need to be attending.

    In the US two HR consultants have developed the Results Only Work Environment where meetings are all optional (that's to say, you attend only if you consider it a necessary part of your work to do so). Take a look at:


    Perhaps a closer look at the meetings might be required. 

  • We have contracted at our Board Meetings that people "are in the moment" and wont use blackberries, laptops etc. etc The pay off is frequent breaks (every hour or so) for people to get their fix 
  • Often it's a bad habit and when invited to reflect on the impact people make their own decision to manage their behaviour.

    I recently facilitated a two day planning workshop and when preparing, members of the group were adamant that they wanted additional breaks to check emails etc  I suggested that we agree together each morning and afternoon when would be good times.  They didn't actually take additional breaks in reality as they were engaged in the work we were doing together.  Check it out with people. Tell them what you need from them to make it an effective meeting, and ask them what they need from you and each other.   Behaviour is more likely to change when people have the opportunity to scrutinise themselves and make a decision.

    I have a personal request I make - i"f you need to look at your phone or your device to deal with a matter of business, make sure you take yourself somewhere that doesn't disrupt your colleagues". I work on the assumption that we are all adults, and there are times when people need to make/take a call etc.

    I find people in general prefer not to do this - they opt to stay present in the moment, as Keith says.

  • I have an external TU official that shows up to meetings, gets out his laptop and types.  People think he's taking notes of the meeting, but actually he is logging in to his email account and answering emails.  Then he goes away and later challenges us that we have not consulted the TU on a particular issue that was covered in the meeting.

    There is also the bad behaviour of the sender, expecting immediate answers.  How many times have we heard "well, I sent it to you in an email this morning and haven't had an answer".  I've established my own discipline that Saturday and Sunday I will not log on to my emails: HR people really do need a break from people's problems....

    Now back to the problems....

  • I agree that people should make a judgement call on meetings in terms of the value they get from these and I opt out of a number of meetings and networks that feel like groundhog day where the same issues are discussed and very little or no progress is made, making the value nil.

    However I feel workshops are a different thing for me where I would suspect that the majority of people would have opted to attend rather than be mandated so they would perceivably have an interest and should be engaged.

    As I posed the question in the initial post - how did they cope before the advent of emails and mobile technology - I have been around long enough to remember those days and don't seem to recall people constantly leaving the room to have to attend to their day job - the services seemed to cope just fine? Similarly I didn’t seem to return to work with a back breaking amount of royal mail whereas now I arrive back from holidays to a vast amount of email.

    I conclude I am just turning into a grumpy old man!!


  • Anna, the work of the American consultants is interesting although an initial glance would suggest they are firmly in the consultant/guru infomercial style.  I will dig deeper as I am very interested in this area.

    Back on topic.  My view is checking your phone whilst someone is talking is very rude but as with many things it is all relative.  If someone checks their phone whilst they are being spoken to, it is ok.  However, if the same person is talking to someone else and they check their phone then it is considered rude.

    I would argue the use of phones etc it is a show of how important they are, the need to constantly communicate with others suggests the end of civilisation if the email about ordering more coffee or reading a witty tweet is not done immediately   

    Jon, nothing wrong with being grumpy.  To me it is a lifestyle choice and it turns out I am really quite good at it

  • In reply to Steven :

    Completely forgot to add that my theory about emails is very few are designed to communicate ideas or information.  Most are sent as evidence of innocence if things go wrong
  • Steve - your posts made me smile so maybe I am not that grumpy but just aspire to be!!!

    According to my much better half and my children I am very skilled at being grumpy even when I thnk I am being upbeat!!!

  • I agree with many points here and like the suggestions
    offered for achieving a better balance. It is hard, in my view, not to
    interpret some of the behaviours discussed as rude, disinterested, or gestures
    of self-importance – there certainly seems to be a rapidly growing trend that the
    more technical multi-tasking that is going on, the more impressive you are supposed
    to appear! We still train new starters in customer service with the ethos of
    being present and maintaining focus with your customer from moment to moment – perhaps
    something is getting lost in translation once people progress?!