The 21st Century Workforce: Driving Productivity in an Era of Distractions

Credit: HR Technologist

From getting sucked into the Twittersphere to spending too much time trying to navigate a new workplace “productivity” tool, it’s easy to get sidetracked at work. Today’s employees are feeling the negative effects of workplace distractions and are looking for ways to block them out. In fact, our recent research shows that not only are 70 percent of employees distracted while at work, but 54 percent of those surveyed also say their performance suffers because of it.

Businesses need to face this issue head on and deliver real, purpose-driven solutions so their employees can focus on their work. Companies that invest in helping minimize distractions, whether through increased training or updated policies, will not only attract and retain top talent but will also keep them engaged and productive.  Here’s a look at some factors contributing to workplace distraction and strategies for combating it before it takes a toll on the bottom line.

Distraction Hits Youngest Generations Hardest

Millennials and Generation Z workers, who’ve grown up with technology, are feeling the biggest impact, with a whopping 78 percent saying they’re distracted at work. Shockingly, more than a third of this age group also admit to using their phones for personal activities for up to two hours during the workday—that’s more than 10 hours over the course of a work week!

These distractions make Millennials unmotivated and stressed out when it comes to doing their job. They believe distractions are impeding their professional growth too: 22 percent of Millennials and Gen Z workers say distractions prevent them from reaching their full potential and advancing their careers. When not subjected to workplace distractions, 75 percent of employees say they’re more productive, 57 percent have increased motivation, and 49 percent are overall happier at work.

These statistics are further supported by findings from a UC Irvine study that show “people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure, and effort.” In addition to the negative emotional toll on individuals, businesses also feel the impact since even the briefest interruptions can double a worker’s error rate.

Swiping, Scrolling, and Socializing

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that social media is a top workplace distraction, but what’s concerning is the lack of training associated with it. From our findings, 88 percent of employees cite social media as a top online distractor, though 58 percent don’t actually need it to do their jobs. Of those who do, however, 76 percent have never received training from their employer. While social media is an important business channel, it can easily become an attention thief and thwart productivity when people haven’t received proper training on its applications in the workplace.

In addition to social media, 80 percent of employees cited chatty coworkers and office noise as top distractions, but what managers may not realize is that 60 percent of workers also view meetings as interruptions that get in the way of productivity.

Refocusing the 21st Century Workforce

A distracted workforce is not only costing employees their time and impacting the bottom line; it’s also a huge morale killer. Of those surveyed, 34 percent like their jobs less when they can’t get ahead of their daily tasks, and most workers aren’t sure of how to permanently stop distractions and stay ahead.

Fortunately, workers are hungry for guidance on blocking out distractions. Our findings show they’re looking to employers to offer the necessary support. Instead of banning social media or limiting personal phone time, companies can adopt more flexible, realistic practices and targeted training on soft skills.

  1. Open communication: Fostering an open dialogue is a great first step to better understanding how distractions affect employees and how to help them cope.  From employees surveyed, 66 percent have never brought the problem to their managers, so it’s worth exploring why they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Managers, too, should feel comfortable broaching the topic first.
  2. New skills: Employees are convinced that training can help them learn to block out distractions with 70 percent of our respondents agreeing that training would help to improve focus in the workplace. Not only can training facilitate smart, efficient use of the myriad tools and technologies in play, stronger soft skills will enable workers to adjust to additional sources of distraction as new tools are introduced.
  3. Remote and flexible work options: Employees also cite flexible or remote work options as a way to reduce distraction and get more done, with 52 percent saying they are more productive working somewhere other than the office.
  4. Develop a learning culture: Employers should aim to foster a learning culture that starts at the top and permeates the entire organization. By demonstrating company-wide support of a learning mindset, employees aren’t reluctant to speak up when they have a training need and learning isn’t just another interruption in their day. Instead, it’s woven into their daily routines.

With modern workforces come modern challenges and new sources of digital distraction. As we become increasingly reliant on technology and devices, it’s time to stop to consider the ways they may be undermining our ability to focus and stay productive.

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