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Workplace distractions: The impact on productivity plus the solutions

Cubo writersOct 11, 2022

With many people working in open offices and all the tendency to collaborate with others to boost teamwork, workplace distraction is the imminent result of even tiny movements and short irrelevant conversations in the offices. It is more usual than ever to get distracted at work, and the worst upshot is the reduction of productivity according to various studies.

Workplace distractions can even negatively affect the health of workers. In this post, we are going to see what workplace distraction is, how it affects workers’ productivity, and how we can tackle the issue properly. 

Workplace distractions: statistical analysis

A woman trying to work at home with a child distracting herRecent research by Poly shows that 99 percent of workers are distracted from their tasks every day. Also, 48 percent of workers believe that office distraction makes them unable to focus effectively on their job. When distracted at work, 51 percent of workers find it more difficult to manage phone calls, and 93 percent also state that office distraction makes managing video calls more challenging. 

The study also shows that the type of distraction and how it affects the employee’s performance are not the same among various generations.

For example, 52 percent of Gen Z are most productive even when working in noisy areas or chatting with other workers, while 60 percent of older generations need quiet spaces to be more productive. According to another study by Udemy, other than the noise, 69 percent of workers state that smartphones are the second biggest source of workplace distraction. 

The effect of workplace distractions on productivity

Man in white shirt covering his faceAlthough workplace distraction is troublesome for many, some others believe that distractions cannot be a big deal. Most employees say they can regain their focus quickly after being distracted by various factors. 

However, a study conducted by the University of California shows that workers cannot fully regain their focus quickly after being distracted; in fact, they just try to work faster to accomplish their tasks. This behavior, the study continues, leads to an increase in higher stress, excessive frustration, and more pressure to get the job done. 

Another study by Michigan State University shows that even small interruptions (like text messages) can almost double the mistakes. That is because workers have to shift their focus to something else and then get back to their main task. While in these cases they may feel that they are focused again, the study proves that they are still distracted. 

Workplace distractions threaten workers’ health too. When distracted at work, employees try to do their tasks hastily. This rush can make them feel less productive and less motivated, leading to negative emotions including anxiety and stress. This can even make workers hate their job and boss.

Controllable workplace distractions

Some workplace distractions such as outside traffic noise are not controllable, but many others are caused actually by ourselves, as the Udemy study also shows.

For example, many workers tend to keep their personal emails open along with their work emails. The good news is that self-caused distractions are easy to eliminate. Here are top examples in this regard: 

  • News Alerts: Everyone deserves to be aware of the latest news, but recurring news alerts are big sources of distraction. To avoid this, you can turn off push notifications or use a “Do Not Disturb” option on your phone as well as your desktop. 

  • Personal Email/Social Media: You may receive multiple emails throughout a workday. Here again, the solution is to turn off the notifications. Instead, schedule regular breaks to check your emails/social media. You can even set a timer to avoid getting sucked in. 

  • Long Lunchtimes With Colleagues: It is completely normal and even useful to have lunch with your coworkers as it can refresh your brain and enhance your social interaction. However, it should be controlled if you think it is taking longer than necessary. To shorten it, try to plan a monthly get-together with your colleagues to keep in touch effectively. You can also order in or brown-bag your lunch to the office. 

Uncontrollable workplace distractions

Sadly, there are numerous sources of workplace distractions you cannot eliminate or control. However, at least there are solutions to make them less effective on your productivity. Let us review the top examples in this case:

  • Noisy Colleagues: The best solution here is to speak up. Most employees are not aware that their voice is loud and annoys others. In such cases, you can politely let them know. They should be told that their loud voice is distracting and you can hear all the conversation they have even over the phone. 

  • Noisy Meeting/Games: The meetings and office games, especially those you are not a part of, can be too noisy and distracting. Since you cannot control this distraction, one solution is to wear appropriate headphones that can eliminate the outside noises. If it does not work, you can even relocate temporarily until the meeting or game is over. 

  • Office Parties: Although a source of distraction, office parties can be fun and even improve your productivity. Then, go and have fun. These events can reset your brain by making you think about anything but work. Most of the time, office parties are scheduled in advance, so you can plan your tasks to be able to attend them. 

What bosses can do

You may test all the solutions above, and still, find yourself interrupted and less productive. If so, you are not alone. Many workers believe that they can work more hours with more productivity if their bosses could decrease workplace distractions at the office. They generally like their bosses to provide a quiet work zone or control the noise levels in the office for higher efficiencies.

That being said, the Udemy study interestingly shows that 66 percent of workers are not inclined to speak to their bosses about this issue. Unsurprisingly, the reason for this silence is that employees are afraid of appearing unable to work and collaborate in teams. While this wrong belief may bother the workers in silence, managers should be aware of it and take necessary action to solve the issue in advance. 

Remote working may be the answer

Stressed freelancerBoth the Udemy and Poly studies mentioned previously show that most employees feel more productive in less noisy offices. The greatest advantage of working remotely is that workers are free to have a flexible schedule and find a time and place that boosts their productivity the most.

Whether you are working remotely or in a physical office, managers must detect the sources of distraction at work to eliminate them. Creating quiet zones, letting more workers work from home remotely, or even moving the foosball table somewhere else can be among the productivity-boosting actions bosses can take.