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10 Distractions That Kill Workplace Productivity

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Smartphones, the internet, social media and emails are among the 10 biggest workplace productivity killers.

  • There are many workplace distractions that negatively impact employees.
  • Smartphones, the internet, social media and emails are among the 10 biggest workplace productivity killers, according to a study by CareerBuilder.
  • There are ways to encourage productivity at work, including taking timed breaks, working close to productive co-workers and being publicly accountable.

Technology boosts your productivity in some ways, but it hurts it in other ways, according the findings a study conducted in 2015 by CareerBuilder.

The study cited smartphones, the internet, social media and email as the primary workplace productivity killers. Specifically, more than half of the employers surveyed say the biggest distraction at work came from employees using their cell phones, while 44% said the same about employees using the internet.

However, technology can't take all the blame for preventing employees from getting their work done. The study revealed that 37% of employers pointed to office gossip, while 27% pointed to co-workers stopping by to chat as their biggest productivity killers.

The employers who were surveyed cited the following distractions:

  1. Cellphones/texting
  2. The internet
  3. Gossip
  4. Social media
  5. Email
  6. Co-workers dropping by
  7. Meetings
  8. Smoke/snack breaks
  9. Noisy co-workers
  10. Sitting in a cubicle

"Between the internet, cellphones and co-workers, there are so many stimulants in today's workplace; it's easy to see how employees get sidetracked," Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder, said in a statement.

Other workplace distractions 

The study also points to clutter as an inhibitor of workplace productivity. A messy workplace can impact the focus of an employee, which limits their ability to process information. Confusion and disorder are difficult to manage while trying to work, preventing employees from focusing on their current task. This usually causes an employee to feel stress and anxiety.

To combat distractions due to clutter, employees should get rid of items that are no longer needed. They should also organize papers in appropriate folders and files, or, better yet, use electronic storage methods. Document management solutions eliminate the need for physical copies while still maintaining an electronic copy of important files and documents. Electronic methods also eliminate the need for additional physical storage, such as filing cabinets, which take up space as well.  [Looking for a document management solution for your office? Read our reviews of the best document management software solutions.]

This distraction may be a bit surprising to you, but hunger can make it nearly impossible to focus. An employer should ensure their employees take breaks and have regular lunches. It might seem more productive to work through lunch and keep plugging away at work, but that is not the case. When an employee ignores their needs, they are less likely to focus on work.

How do distractions affect productivity? 

Even the smallest distractions can cause employees to take longer to complete a task. Not only does it extend the length of time it takes to complete tasks, but it can decrease the quality of their work.

When an employee is distracted, they must then shift their attention back to the task at hand.  When employees experience decreased productivity, they can feel discouraged, which, in turn, can negatively impact productivity further.  

Employees and managers may not be talking about the distractions that come up during the work day, but they should. By not addressing distractions in the workplace, and what can be done to reduce those interruptions, tension and resentment can build in the workplace, which can spill over, negatively impacting relationships between co-workers and the company's overall culture.

Recognizing the difficulties that distractions can cause, nearly three-quarters of employers have taken at least one step to alleviate the problem. Some have instituted policies that include blocking certain websites, banning personal calls and cellphone use, instituting set lunch and break times, monitoring email and internet use, and limiting meetings, while other employers have adopted an open-space layout instead of cubicles and policies that allow employees to telecommute certain days of the workweek. 

Employers don't have to take drastic measures, though. One of the best ways to cultivate a culture of productivity in your office is for employees to take regular breaks, Haefner said.

"Taking breaks from work throughout the day can actually be good for productivity, enabling the mind to take a break from the job at hand and re-energize you," Haefner said. "The trick is finding the right (work-appropriate) activities that promote, rather than deplete energy."

Haefner offers a few tips for employers to create a workplace that will boost productivity:

  • Schedule breaks. Encourage employees to take breaks during the day, but be sure they set a definite ending time. This not only gives them something to look forward to, but it lets them know when it's time to get back to work.

  • Work near productive people. Productivity can be contagious. Seeing how co-workers stay productive can be an inspiration to others.

  • Be publicly accountable. If employees can't seem to get motivated, try having them post their goals for the day on social media. Making themselves publicly accountable will help push them to get their work finished.

  • Take a walk. If workers are having trouble concentrating, have them step outside for a 10- or 20-minute walk. Previous research has shown that light exercise can rejuvenate the brain.

The study was based on surveys of 2,175 hiring and human resources managers across a variety of industries and company sizes.

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