Technology in the workplace appears to be a double-edged sword. While technology is helping improve employee productivity in some ways, it is hurting it in others, according to a new study from the technology company Ricoh Americas Corp.
The vast majority of employees are easily distracted from their work by mobile phones and the Internet. More than three-quarters of the employees surveyed check personal email, 67 percent send personal texts and 61 percent take personal calls at least once a week while on the job. Additionally, 35 percent post to their social media accounts and 34 percent play games on a weekly basis.
Terrie Campbell, vice president of strategic marketing at Ricoh Americas Corp, said although few would propose a blanket ban on personal email and phone calls, given that some messages can be urgent, the numbers suggest workers are spending a fair amount of time not working.
"We need to be connected to electronic resources for our work, which gives us a tremendous ability to achieve great things," Campbell said in a statement. "But the flipside is we're a click away from alluring distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Hollywood gossip and 'Angry Birds.'"
This "connectivity conundrum" is especially severe for digital natives new to the workforce. The study revealed that workers between ages 18 and 34 are nearly twice as likely as their older peers ages 35-64 to post to social media accounts and play games weekly. [NSFW? Workers Reveal Their Favorite Online Distractions ]
While employees used to avoid taking personal calls during their work hours, indulging in distraction is a symptom of the disappearing boundary between an employee's work and personal life, according to Campbell. She said there's been a collective rebalancing to offset the work demanded of employees on nights, weekends and vacations.
"If you're expected to be 'on call' during your personal time, it's not outrageous to take a call from a friend or family member during work hours," Campbell said. "The firewall between work and life has crumbled, so it's understandable that personal affairs have seeped into work time just as work affairs have seeped into personal time."
Another explanation for more and more employees using their technology for personal reasons is that the movement of both parents into the workforce is forcing moms and dads to deal with the responsibilities of raising their children and dealing with aging parents at times other than when they are at home, according to the study's authors.
"Embracing distractions might also be an attempt to recharge mental batteries throughout the day," Campbell said. "For instance, you may be on a lengthy conference call and check Facebook mainly to keep yourself awake."
To help businesses contend with the issue of technology distractions, Ricoh Americas Corp. offers several tips:
- Acknowledge the issue: In order to start an open dialogue on distractions, organizations must first accept their existence and the challenge of staying focused.
- Set expectations: Provide your employees with some guidelines. Clarify your performance expectations, while also defining your understanding of the work/life balance.
- Measure employee results: Instead of spending time trying to determine how to eliminate distractions, try setting employees' goals around results. For example, if workers are expected to assemble 50 widgets a day, and they do so, then it may not matter how they allocate their time.
- Change the workplace culture: To get employees to stop texting or making personal calls, create a culture that is as appealing as the distractions. Make work as fun as possible. Evenly distribute the appealing work as well the monotonous assignments.
The study was based on surveys of 2,014 adults over age 18, more than half of whom were employed full time, part time, or were self-employed
Originally published on Business News Daily