REPRESENTATIONAL IMAGE: Consumers shop online during a shop and lunch event in the boardroom of the National Retail Federation November 27, 2006 in Washington, DC.Getty Images

Tell us, is this common: You are discussing your plan of action with your boss. Her phone pings. She is immediately distracted by the ping and reaches out to the device leaving the conversion mid-way.

If this has happened to you, then you have been phubbed! This new workplace phenomenon is becoming a common sight in offices and experts warn that it will have a negative impact on the employer-employee relationship.

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The term phubbing or phub is derived after it was noted that supervisors snub an employee in favour of the smartphone during a meeting or conversation. According to Daily Herald, researchers suggest that this behaviour undermines trust and engagement in the workplace.

James Roberts and Meredith David, professors of marketing at Baylor University, conducted a study titled "Put Down Your Phone and Listen to Me: How boss phubbing undermines the psychological conditions necessary for employee engagement."

In the study, the duo found that "behaviour as simple as using a cell phone in the workplace can ultimately undermine an employee's success."

"The supervisor-employee relationship is really like a marriage -- they have to work together and they have a common goal in mind. If [phubbing] is bad in a romantic relationship, I can't believe it can have anything but negative consequences in the workplace," said Roberts.

The study revealed that when the supervisor is using the cell phone in the presence of their employees, it negatively affects the employee engagement.

Their research was divided into three studies with 413 supervisors and employees participated in the survey. Participants were asked to answer to queries to measure degrees of boss phubbing.

Questions like "My boss places his or her cellphone where I can see it when we are together," "When my boss' cellphone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation," and "I can rely on my supervisor to keep the promises he/she makes," were part of the survey.

Mobile phone
[Representational image]Creative Commons

Employees who experienced boss phubbing expressed that they "are less likely to feel that their work is valuable or conducive to their own professional growth." In addition, "employees who work under the supervision of an untrusted, phubbing supervisor tend to have lower confidence in their own ability to carry out their job, which negatively impacts engagement."

But is the phenomenon new?

Certainly not. Roberts said that while there are phones involved now, the snubbing is not a new development. Even if the cell phone is absent, bosses have the tendency to snub their employees by not giving them their full attention. Be it by twirling a pen or running through other documents during a discussion.

However, Roberts does warn that due to cell phones, the snubbing dynamic has been worsening. "It is different, but it is also intensifying. By being so salient, it grabs our attention. It's almost automatic attention," he said.

Implications in the workplace:

The study shared important implication for both bosses and employees. The research pointed out, "Phubbing is harmful behaviour, and regardless of whether the phubbing occurs when eating with others or in a meeting with others, it undermines any corporate culture based on respect for others."

How can phubbing be controlled?

"It is crucial that corporations strive to create a corporate culture embodied by care for one another," the researchers wrote. Roberts also recommended companies train bosses and employees to be more sensitive in order to recognise the negative impact of phubbing on workplace relationships.

He also suggested that companies should evaluate supervisors not just on the basis of sale numbers and quantitative output but also keep a tab on whether employees trust or respect them. If that also doesn't help phubbing, offices should consider setting formal "smartphone policies" to determine the usage of phones in workplaces.