7 Ways to Decrease Workplace Distractions & Increase Productivity

Four-day work weeks and unlimited paid time off sounds like workplace heaven. It also sounds like a recipe for attendance and productivity disasters. When I spoke with Joyce Maroney, the executive director at the Kronos Workforce Institute, I became even more convinced that giving employees flexibility and more time to focus on their personal lives can increase productivity and engagement.

When Maroney and her team conducted a survey of over 3,000 employees across eight different countries, they weren’t aiming to find anything in particular. In general, they wanted to find out how employees felt about their jobs and managers. What they found led them down an unexpected path.

Kronos published the findings of their survey in the report The Case for a Four-Day Workweek: Nearly Half of Employees Worldwide Could Do Their Jobs in Five Hours or Less Each Day. Don’t let the report title fool you. Although 72% of those surveyed said they’d prefer a four-day workweek if their pay remained the same, when Maroney factored in other survey results, it became clear that a four-day workweek wouldn’t work for everyone. The responses in the survey that indicated why employees prefer a four-day workweek shed light on something else: how employers can help employees maximize their productivity while at work.

A statistic that caught Maroney’s attention is 45% of workers believe they can complete their jobs in fewer than five hours a day if they work without interruptions. This data led Maroney to investigate how much time people spend at work actually doing their jobs as opposed to how much time they spend doing other things that take away from their core responsibilities. She also wanted to determine how much of this wasted time is on the employee, who is on social media, taking long lunches, or chatting with coworkers, and how much of it is on the employer.

Maroney and her team concluded that although many distractions seem to fall on the employee, employers are ultimately to blame due to the work environment created.

Whether it’s implementing a four-day workweek or eliminating workplace distractions, Maroney suggests seven things employers can do to help employees to maximize their time at work while spending less time there.

1. Limit Social Media Use at Work

It didn’t come as a shock when Maroney shared that employees spend almost 10% of their work time on their phones doing things that aren’t related to work. This mostly involves trolling social media. We all know that social media distracts people at work, but we often struggle to limit the unnecessary time employees spend on social media. Here’s where the Maroney and the Kronos report can help.

Blocking social media and regularly looking over an employee’s shoulder may reduce an employee’s social media use; however, it will also reduce how much an employee trusts and respects their employer. This type of regulation is also a waste of an employer’s resources and time.

Limiting social media use at work doesn’t mean implementing public middle school policies. It does mean communicating clear expectations regarding social media use, setting an example of when and how social media use is appropriate, and creating a climate where employees can get lost in their work and aren’t thinking about social media.

A workplace where employees are more motivated by work than social media may seem like a fantasy land, but it isn’t. Read on to see what employers can do to make it a reality.

2. Minimize Unnecessary Administrative Tasks

86% of the people surveyed said they feel they waste too much time on administrative tasks that don’t add value to their organizations. These tasks include things like data entry, generating reports, attending meetings, and keeping up with emails.

Although many administrative tasks are necessary, people don’t do them effectively and waste time. During the discussion, Maroney had some great suggestions about how employers can minimize the distraction and burden administrative tasks place on employees, pulling them away from their core responsibilities.

Don’t cut the ham if you have a big enough pan.

No, I haven’t been distracted from my work and forgotten the focus of this post. I’m using a story Maroney told me as a reminder of how important it is for organizations to question why and how they do things regularly.

Here’s the story:

A girl asks her mother why she cuts off the end of the ham before she puts it in the pan. The mother says it’s because that’s how her mother did it. The girl’s mother later asks her mother why she cut the ham, and her mother says it’s because her pan was too short for the average ham.

The point? Employers need to assess how and why employees complete administrative tasks regularly, and they need to identify and cut unnecessary steps whenever possible. As a company’s personnel, technology, assets, and goals change, so should the processes that drive them.

This doesn’t mean that organizations should implement change solely for the sake of change; they should continuously consider change and apply it when it’s necessary. “The cumulative impact of not revisiting and looking for opportunities to change things up can lead to pretty significant inefficiencies in a workplace,” warns Maroney.

Embrace the 21st Century.

Ditch the paper calendars and homegrown spreadsheets, and invest in a digital platform that streamlines administrative tasks. Find a platform that can do it all, allows customization, provides 24-hour support, offers staff training, and delivers regular and non-intrusive updates. A comprehensive platform may initially cost more, but it will ultimately cost less than piecing together several smaller, less-capable programs and apps.

During our discussion, Maroney emphasized the importance of effective scheduling and how employers, particularly those working with hourly employees, should find a program that makes appointment setting easy and communication seamless.

Teach employees how to use their tools.

So many employers invest in the latest and greatest administrative tools, but they don’t teach their employees, and sometimes even themselves, how to best leverage those tools. Employers need to learn how to best use whatever administrative tools they choose and take the time to teach employees how to use them too.

Minimize meeting times and maximize time at meetings.

Many organizations need to evaluate and change how and why they meet. Meetings should help employees get their work done; they shouldn’t distract employees from it.

Employers should only hold meetings when there is a purpose, and they shouldn’t conduct a meeting when they could easily share the content in an email.

3. Lighten the Perceived Workload

26% of the employees surveyed said they are unable to do their jobs well because they are being asked to do too much. The stress of an unreasonable workload slows them down and distracts them from their work.

This may seem to contradict some of the survey’s other results; however, when people think they have too much to do in the time that they have to do it, they will procrastinate and work slower. Employers can lighten the way their employees’ feel about their workload without lightening the workload itself.

Communicate clear goals.

When employees know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, they will feel in control of their work and be more productive. Employers need to establish clear project objectives and help their employees see and buy into the reasons behind them.

Break big projects into smaller tasks.

Organizations should encourage managers and employees to break large projects into a series of smaller tasks. Small tasks feel more manageable, and they help employers to frequently check in with their employees to provide feedback and to acknowledge progress.

Promote self-management.

Employers should empower employees to manage themselves and lighten their work loads with professional development opportunities to strengthen their project and time management skills.

4. Build a Workplace Culture Based on People & Not Things

Putting a Playstation in the breakroom and buying breakfast burritos won’t build the kind of workplace culture Maroney suggests. On their own, these kinds of perks are more distracting than helpful. Maroney promotes the type of workplace culture that requires regular and personal attention.

Employers need to be rigorous about checking in with their employees to see if they like their jobs and trust their managers. This goes beyond simply asking. “If you’re going to bother to ask the questions, you have to be serious about investing in the answers,” Maroney said during the podcast. In other words, asking employees what they need and not following up with solutions is worse than never asking in the first place.

5. Manage Your Managers

Kronos offers employees unlimited paid time off. To many managers, this would seem like a nightmare. The policy, however, encourages managers to be flexible, to communicate with their employees authentically, and to establish clear and reasonable expectations. Since Kronos implemented their unlimited vacation policy, employees take an average of two more days off per year than they did before the policy. Those two days are well worth it because employee engagement at Kronos is on the rise.

Policies like this not only encourage employee buy-in and engagement, but they also require organizations to hold their managers accountable. Kronos promotes positive workplace relationships and communication with what they call a Manager Effectiveness Index. Managers are evaluated based on employee feedback, and if a manager needs additional training or support, Kronos provides it.

Managing other people isn’t easy, and it’s something that takes time and training. Organizations who invest in training their managers to improve their management skills, not just their job content skills, will ultimately get more out of their employees.

6. Pay People What They’re Worth

This one’s a no-brainer, but employers still need to hear it. One of the biggest causes of low productivity is undervalued employees. Employers need to offer competitive compensation if they want to keep employees who make the most of their time at work.

Compensation is more than a paycheck. During our meeting, Maroney suggested some great ways employers can make their employees feel valued, such as positive feedback, removing distractions, and giving more time off to employees who complete their work early.

7. Be Flexible

All of these strategies require flexibility. 71% of those surveyed said their work interferes with their personal lives. With family, friends, kids, vacations, and hobbies, a person’s life is rarely routine. Employers need to create a workplace that offers the flexibility a fulfilling personal life requires.

“Employees really value flexibility in their lives,” said Maroney, “and whatever you can do to create those opportunities and flexibility for people within your organization are going to help them be more loyal to your organization.”

Maroney urges employers to empower employees to do what they love by limiting workplace distractions and being flexible with their employees’ schedules and processes.

Maroney is quoted at the end of the report, which I believe sums this all up incredibly well:

“The biggest takeaway of this research isn’t that we should move to a shorter workweek or that we need a time machine to get all our work done. It’s clear that employees want to work and do well by their employers, and many roles require people to be present or on call during specific hours to get the job done –such as teachers, nurses, retail associates, plant workers, delivery drivers, and nearly all customer-facing roles. Organizations must help their people eliminate distractions, inefficiencies, and administrative work to enable them to work at full capacity. This will create more time to innovate, collaborate, develop skills and relationships, and serve customers while opening the door to creative scheduling options, including the coveted four-day workweek.


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