With so much of the UK workforce at home, how can employers keep an eye on employee productivity and wellbeing? In an exclusive roundtable hosted by the Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards (GBWWA) team, we get some insight into the phenomena of “phubbing”.

This session was hosted by Wellity Global CEO and co-founder of GBWWA, Simon Scott-Nelson. 


  • Simon Scott-Nelson, Wellity Global & Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards

  • Jonathan Davies, Great British Workplace Wellbeing Awards

  • Ellie Caley, Wellity Global

  • Nikita Singh, EY

  • Hector Hughes, Unplugged

  • Chelsea Peek, CCM Group

  • Nicholas Looby, Modern Zombies

What is phubbing?

Phubbing is a term that’s used to describe when a person is interacting with their phone or laptop that is distracting them from a conversation or interaction with another. Essentially, it equates to ‘multitasking’ but not being present at all.

“We can drop up to 25 points in our IQ by being constantly distracted,” says Simon Scott-Nelson, outlining the drastic effects this newly defined phenomena could have on employees and businesses alike. 

How important is it to switch off?

“We’re simply just not present,” says Modern Zombies’ Nicholas Looby. Smartphones are ubiquitous but Nicholas says boundaries are crucial. It’s “still not good enough” to just put your phone down in a meeting since you can still see the phone. 

Wellity’s Ellie Caley says the lockdown has forced us to use technology. “Coming out of it now, it’s so difficult to step away. It’s been our life for the past year or so.” Having a conversation in person after so deeply establishing ourselves exclusively online can be quite jarring.

Due to our unintentional adaptation, it might be time to tone it down so we can all readjust to getting back out there in the office. With technology playing an even larger role in our lives during lockdown, it’s even more important now to switch off occasionally.

The roundtable discussion moved onto whether it was rude to check your phone. “Rude is a little harsh,” says Unplugged’s Hector Hughes. “These devices are so addictive. No wonder stress and anxiety are skyrocketing, it’s too much to process.” 

Ernst & Young’s Nikita Singh thinks there’s something deeper to it. “Are we really present?” she asks. Half of the time, we’re thinking about things not directly in front of us, and Nikita thinks that has something to do with the stress placed upon all of us during lockdown. “For a lot of people, the workload is crazy,” she adds, and right she is. Companies are scrambling to adapt to the workload placed on newly at-home employees, which may have soared out of control, as we find here. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to manage the mind and Nikita thinks we should be asking ourselves how to keep our mind in the present.

“When my phone goes dead, I find this overwhelming lovely thought that I’m out of the loop.”

Simon Scott-Nelson

How do we switch off?

It’s tough to break the cycle, Nicholas says. “The only option if you really want to be present is turn it off, leave it. Go somewhere without it.” 

Making the conscious decision to do something rather than just putting it to the side can make all the difference. “You have to actually say to yourself I’m not going to look at this,” says Ellie. 

Taking responsibility for your habits means taking control back of your life.

Simon mentions some of the people recently seeking out remote holidays with no Wi-Fi so they can take some time off from everything they have on. Hector thinks it’s a good idea: “It really starts with awareness,” he says. “It’s not about changing habits; it’s about changing perspective.” 

Getting people to simply go offline and realise there’s a world out there can do wonders for the bad habits we might have all accumulated during lockdown and certainly over the course of our lives.

The panel thinks the more attention that can be brought to the issue, the more people can be shown there’s an alternative. “We need to remove the reasons to go on your phone,” says Hector. Checking the time, messages and other notifications can all be circumvented by things like buying a watch or talking to someone in person. One activity on the phone can spiral down into hours of wasting time and phubbing. 

Why is it so hard to disconnect?

“How do we overcome that fear,” asks Simon. Hector mentioned at his business, they tried locking away peoples’ phones, literally. “For the first six months, we were checking people in. Month one when we tried to lock away peoples’ phones they said, ‘what are you doing? No way!’.” The key is to get people to give themselves the permission to stay offline. Once you’ve done that, then people can have the important conversations about why it’s so hard for them to put down the phone.

It’s difficult in big organisations to switch off because of the fear of missing out on something important, especially when you see your managers and peers sending out emails or messages to their team. “The one simple thing we did in one of our programmes was to reward people for lesser screen time,” says Nikita. She thinks despite the controversial reward-based incentive, if it works then it can lead to a habit and more importantly change someone’s mindset about the whole situation. 

It seems like a lot of work to cut down the screen time, but according to the panelists, it is an important step to take. From meditation to phone lock-ups, all of the participating panelists say that such practices have made a huge difference in their lives. 

How can we bring wellbeing into the workplace?

Chelsea Peek from CCM Group LTD explains how wellness sessions help. The trick is not to call them ‘wellness sessions’. According to Chelsea, there’s a stigma on calling it a “wellness session”. In fact, attendance went up when these sessions were simply called a ‘shared lunch’. 

Wellbeing ultimately means something different to each person and opening up the conversation is the first step. Ideally, it’s a conversation that can be had without your phone in hand.  

Watch the highlights of the round table in the video above or check out our YouTube channel for more.