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Updated Apr 05, 2024

10 Distractions That Kill Workplace Productivity

These distractions can keep your team from being productive. Here’s how to limit them and get more done.

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Brandi Calero-Holmes, Contributing Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Employees can get sidetracked by wildly different things, and even the slightest threat to an employee’s attention span can tank an otherwise productive workday. Here’s a look at some of the most common workplace distractions that are costing businesses money, along with more productivity killers, how distractions hurt efficiency and production, and some easy ways to boost productivity.

Did You Know?Did you know
Companies have lost hundreds of billions of dollars annually in employee time theft, which is often caused by distractions at work.

Top 10 workplace distractions

According to a CareerBuilder survey, the following are the most common distractions at work:

  1. Cell phones
  2. Internet browsing
  3. Gossip
  4. Social media
  5. Email
  6. Conversations with co-workers
  7. Meetings
  8. Smoke or snack breaks
  9. Noisy co-workers
  10. Sitting in a cubicle

Notably, more than half of the employers CareerBuilder surveyed said the biggest workplace distraction came from employees using their smartphones, while 44 percent cited employees using the internet. It’s easy to understand how the lure of texting, mobile games and surfing the web can sidetrack even the most committed employee.

But technology can’t take all the blame for diverting employees from their tasks. The study revealed that 37 percent of employers pointed to office gossip, while 27 percent mentioned co-workers stopping by to chat as their biggest productivity killers.

“Between the internet, cell phones and co-workers, there are so many stimulants in today’s workplace [that] it’s easy to see how employees get sidetracked,” said Rosemary Haefner, former chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder.

Other workplace distractions

Aside from the top 10 productivity killers, various everyday circumstances can unknowingly derail employees’ best intentions. Here are some everyday situations that can sap productivity.

Clutter can clutter the mind.

Surprisingly, the study calls out clutter as a workplace-productivity inhibitor. A messy desk or office can impact an employee’s focus, limiting their ability to process information. Confusion and disorder are difficult to manage when someone’s trying to work, leaving employees unable to focus on the tasks at hand. This distraction and confusion can lead to stress and anxiety for the employee.

To combat distractions due to clutter, employees should get rid of any unnecessary items that surround them. They should also organize papers in appropriate folders and files or, better yet, use electronic storage methods, such as a document management system. Finding a document management solution eliminates the need for physical paper copies but maintains an orderly record of important files and documents.

Electronic storage methods eliminate the need for additional physical storage, such as filing cabinets, which also take up space.

If you’re looking for a document management solution for your office, read our reviews of the best document management software providers. Compare their prices and features to find one that works for you.

Hunger can ruin focus.

Finding hunger on this distraction list may surprise you, but everyone can agree that hunger can make it virtually impossible to focus. It’s wise for employers to make sure employees take their regular breaks and lunches and stay as healthy as possible. Though it might seem more productive to work through lunch and keep plugging away, it actually hurts productivity. When an employee ignores their needs, they are less likely to focus on work.

Did You Know?Did you know
Making sure your employees take breaks isn’t just a way to help them focus; your state may require it. Be sure to understand your state’s meal and break laws and labor laws to make sure you’re in compliance.

How do distractions affect productivity?

Even the slightest distraction can cause an employee to take longer to complete a task, according to an Association for Psychological Science survey. Not only does the distraction extend the length of time it takes to complete a task, but it can decrease the quality of the employee’s work. It’s important to understand how distractions impact employee productivity.

1. Employees feel less productive.

When something distracts an employee, their attention is directed elsewhere; at some point, they have to shift their attention back to the task at hand. They may ultimately feel less productive because they haven’t been able to complete a task promptly. Their decreased productivity can cause discouragement, which, in turn, can further impact productivity.

2. Relationships with co-workers can deteriorate.

Things are further complicated if an employee’s unfinished work becomes a bottleneck, preventing co-workers from completing their tasks and leaving them feeling frustrated and resentful.

If one team member is perceived as a slacker, their reputation can take a hit, and co-worker relationships can suffer.

3. Unresolved distractions impact company culture.

Employees and managers may not be talking about the distractions during the workday, but they should. Leaving distractions at work unresolved can cause tension and resentment to build throughout the company. An employee’s job satisfaction can plummet, relationships with co-workers can be impacted and the overall company culture can be affected.

Did You Know?Did you know
In some situations, remote workers are more productive than those in an office. If an employee is a suitable candidate for remote work and it works for your business, consider implementing some remote work options. Review our list of the best employee monitoring software to ensure you can support your workforce working remotely.

How to prevent distractions at work

When you understand the ramifications of distracted employees, you can implement policies and procedures to help alleviate the problem. Some employers have company policies in their employee handbooks such as these:

  • Blocking certain websites
  • Banning personal calls and cell phone use
  • Setting lunch and break times
  • Monitoring email and internet use
  • Limiting meetings
  • Adopting an open-space layout instead of cubicles
  • Allowing employees to telecommute on certain days of the workweek

Employers don’t have to take drastic measures, though. Encouraging employees to take a short break can be effective. 

“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 reenergize you. The trick is finding the right [work-appropriate] activities that promote – rather than deplete – energy.”

Employer tips for boosting productivity

In the CareerBuilder release, Haefner offered a few tips for employers to create a workplace that will boost productivity:

  • Schedule breaks. Encourage employee breaks during the day, but make sure they set a definite ending time. This not only gives employees something to look forward to, but it also 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. Being 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.

Don’t let distractions drain your team

Creating a distraction-free workplace is important to ensuring productivity levels stay consistent. But more than that, allowing employees the freedom to step away and recharge their batteries can help them stay energized and focused. Work with your employees to find the ideal balance for them, and help coach those who are underperforming and find out what can empower them to stay engaged. Overall, a good manager is one that helps limit distractions and support their team in accomplishing their collective goals.

Chad Brooks and Tejas Vemparala contributed to this article.

author image
Brandi Calero-Holmes, Contributing Writer
Brandi Calero-Holmes has been a freelance writer for roughly 3 years creating content for small businesses, digital publications, and professionals internationally while residing in Newport News, Virginia. Her 8 years of career experience in finance and business include insurance and consumer lending. In 2018, Calero-Holmes has written extensively on business and finance topics for numerous brands and digital publications.
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