‘Phubbing’ At Home Makes People Less Productive In The Office

BATH, United Kingdom — Picture this: You’ve had a long, stressful day at work, filled with deadlines, difficult conversations, and endless to-dos. You finally make it home, ready to unwind and connect with your partner. However, as you begin to share the highlights and lowlights of your day, you notice their eyes drifting to their phone, their thumb scrolling through some irresistible feed. Suddenly, you feel less heard, less supported, less… important. If this scenario feels all too familiar, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s a name for this phenomenon: phubbing.

A portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing,” phubbing refers to the habit of ignoring our conversation partners in favor of our smartphones. According to a new study published in The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, this digital distraction isn’t just frustrating in the moment — it could actually be undermining a key source of support in managing work-life balance.

The research, conducted by scientists at the Universities of Bath, Aston, and IESE Business School, focused on the role of “work-family support” between partners. This encompasses the various ways couples help each other navigate the challenges of juggling career and home responsibilities, such as offering encouragement during a tough work week or taking on extra household chores to lighten the other’s load.

To explore the impact of this support – and the potential interference of phubbing – the researchers collected daily diary data from 65 dual-earner couples in the United States over 15 workdays. They found that on days when individuals felt more supported by their partners in managing work-family challenges, they were more likely to engage in “job crafting” behaviors at work. Job crafting involves proactively reshaping one’s role to better suit personal strengths and interests, such as seeking out new projects or finding fresh meaning in tasks. In turn, this job crafting was associated with higher levels of creativity at work.

In other words, the study revealed a positive ripple effect: Spousal support at home fueled employees’ efforts to mold their jobs, which spurred innovation and problem-solving on the job. It’s a compelling illustration of the ways our personal and professional lives are deeply interwoven.

Caring supportive woman standing behind her stressed boyfriend
Researchers discovered that spousal support at home fueled employees’ efforts to mold their jobs, which spurred innovation and problem-solving on the job. (© zinkevych – stock.adobe.com)

Here’s where the smartphones come in. The researchers discovered that the positive link between one partner’s support and the other partner’s receipt of that support was weaker when the receiving partner engaged in more phubbing behaviors at home. Essentially, being glued to one’s phone seemed to dull the benefits of the spousal support, preventing it from fully “crossing over” to fuel next-day job crafting and creativity.

It’s a striking finding that highlights the power of presence in our closest relationships. Even the most well-intentioned support can fall flat if we’re not fully attentive and available to receive it. In an era where our devices often feel like extensions of ourselves, it’s a crucial reminder to prioritize face-to-face, real-time connection with the people who matter most.

For busy working couples, this might mean instituting “phone-free” times at home, whether it’s during dinner, before bed, or in the first few minutes of reconnecting after work. It could involve making a conscious effort to put away screens and make eye contact when a partner is sharing something important. And it likely means resisting the urge to constantly check work emails or social media feeds during “off” hours – a challenge that may require setting clearer boundaries with colleagues and clients.

On a broader level, the study underscores the need for workplaces to recognize and support employees’ full lives outside of work. By fostering a culture of empathy, flexibility, and healthy work-life integration, organizations can empower their people to build strong home lives that, in turn, fuel engagement and performance on the job.

So, if you find yourself slipping into a phubbing habit, consider it an invitation to reassess your relationship with your devices. Your partner – and perhaps even your work – will thank you. In a world that often demands our divided attention, choosing to be fully present may be the most powerful support we can offer.


  1. It’s nothing new…only the technology. Years ago, a husband or wife might be reading the paper while attempting to listen to the other. A lot of guys….me included, will half listen…taking in the important points while our mind wanders elsewhere. We can still answer when needed but we aren’t really listening to every minute detail (which women tend to give).
    That’s not say we don’t engage if it’s an important (someone’s Mother died or you are getting demoted/fired/promoted.

    It may sound harsh but that’s how most of us are.

  2. Not just dual income earners. This applies to all couples. Multi-tasking while partner tries to connect dilutes the motivation to connect, and spoils the ability to always be as supportive as possible.
    Better hope it gets handled before a really big problem or temptation arises

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