What to do when employees’ biggest time-waster at work doesn’t involve a digital device

How to Deal with Distractions in the Workplace - Talent IntelligenceAlthough in a perfect world, employees would spend every hour in the office focusing solely on work-related tasks, in reality, a number find themselves getting sidetracked throughout the day.

For some, those seemingly small interruptions can add up to a considerable amount of time. Half of the respondents in a Salary.com survey, for example, said they waste two to five hours a week — up to 12.5 percent of the average schedule — on non-work-related items.

Employers may assume most work distractions are associated with technology; however,  while texts, instant messaging and the internet can certainly threaten employee productivity, numerous other non-digital disruptions can also slow things down during the day.

If your workplace is struggling to maintain a consistent pace, some of the following culprits could be the reason:

Employee and other background noise

Somewhat surprisingly, employees ranked chatty coworkers and office sounds — instead of texting, email or other non-work-related tech disturbances — as their top two work distractions, according to a 2018 Udemy survey.

Employees had a few thoughts on solving the problem. Their top suggestion was to allow flexible schedule and remote workplace options, which would obviously allow some individuals to avoid noise-related work distractions; almost as many, however, said establishing designated quiet spaces within the office would help them stay productive.


Meeting overload

Only 18 percent of Salary.com survey respondents cited internet use as their biggest time-waster at work; 47 percent, though, said having to attend too many meetings took up too much of their day. Thirty-four percent of employees said meeting-oriented issues made them feel less productive in a survey conducted by Prysm.

A separate survey from Workfront found a quarter of staff members believe having uninterrupted blocks of time would help improve employee productivity. Reducing your organization’s overall amount of meetings could give employees more time to work continuously; if that isn’t possible, companies can try to address the two main elements Prysm’s survey found can cause corporate meetings to be ineffective: insufficient preparation and outdated conference room technology. Making meetings more effective should at least hopefully reduce their length, providing more time in between each one for employees to work.

Disorganized downtime

A data analysis conducted by BambooHR found taking non-lunch-related breaks to go to the kitchen, water cooler or another area of the office and bathroom visits were the biggest work distractions for employees at various levels — particularly higher ones. More upper management employees actually spent at least 30 minutes a day taking water cooler or break room trips than lower-level management employees; similarly, a greater amount of upper management employees spent a half-hour or more on bathroom breaks.

Other research has found, though, that breaks aren’t always a bad thing — and pausing during the workday can, in some cases, actually help improve employee performance. A study conducted by two Baylor University researchers that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found taking short breaks was associated with employees having more energy, concentration and motivation. The findings also suggest a mid-morning time-out could be more beneficial than an afternoon one.

For additional suggestions on how to deal with distractions in the workplace and improve employee productivity, view our blog posts on helping employees maximize their day, thwarting your biggest time-waster at work, 5 foolproof ways to increase employee productivity and how to get your workplace culture mojo back.