Taming the Beast of Employee Distraction Leadership Tips

We live in an age of nonstop distraction. Email pings, social media outlets beckon, news is reported on a 24/7 cycle, and there’s always a new cycle of blogs and websites to catch up on. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole even after a legitimate work-related search and emerge at the end of the work day having spent much of the afternoon wandering around online. The recent rise of productivity systems isn’t a coincidence—unless you have an extraordinary level of discipline, it’s a real challenge to stay focused.

Taming the Beast of Employee Distraction Leadership Tips

If you’re in charge of a team or an organization, the scope of the challenge is even greater—and the stakes even higher.

Some leaders and companies take a prescriptive approach. Internet access and email use are limited or tightly monitored, and in some cases employees are not allowed access to their mobile phones during work hours. While such a hard-line stance is tempting in its simplicity, it’s not a reasonable approach in most settings. (There are some exceptionsfor example, in workplaces that deal with highly sensitive information.)

Many workers, especially the rising generation of millennials, live out their lives online, and to bar them from doing so would be as strange and off-putting as barring personal conversations. A growing number of employees believe that as long as they’re meeting productivity expectations and deadlines, nothing else should matter.

So how do you discourage undue distraction without interfering with your team’s autonomy and trust? There’s no one single answer, but here are some leadership tips to help you make sound decisions:

Give employees input.

Especially if you’re developing a formal policy, give those who are affected a chance to research the issues and voice their opinions. Anything goes over better when employees feel they’ve had a say in the outcome—and you may well end up with an imaginative solution that you wouldn’t have come up with on your own.

Remember one size rarely fits all.

Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you may need more than one approach. Some employees need to spend time on social media and reading widely on the web as part of their job. On the other hand, it’s entirely appropriate to require that public-facing employees look at their phones when they’re out of sight of clients or customers.

Keep everything in balance.

In many organizations, the line between personal and work time is already a bit blurry. If you expect people to work from home by staying in touch with their email during evenings and weekends, it’s only fair to expect a certain amount of “homing from work”—dealing with personal tasks during work hours. And some tasks, like school conferences and visits to government offices, can be carried out only on weekdays.

Provide support.

Are their professional development resources you can pull in to help people learn to manage distraction and stay focused? Even if it’s just watching a Ted talk on the subject followed by group discussion, having a chance to connect with good ideas and resources can be helpful.

Look beyond the obvious.

We tend to think of distraction as something that comes from smartphones and websites, but especially for employees in cubicles the biggest source of distraction may be environmental noise. Those who have to field frequent phone calls or constantly monitor email may also be subject to distraction. Is it possible to allow those employees to turn off their phones and email for a period of time once or twice a day? Some companies even offer isolation offices that employees can reserve for use when they need to do focused work.

Be clear.

Whatever you decide to implement, make sure everyone affected understands limits, rules, expectations, and how problems will be dealt with. You may want to set a schedule to regularly review your policies or guidelines so you can make sure they’re working as intended and keeping up with changes in technology.

Helping workers learn to manage these new challenges can be difficult—but they’re a fact of life, and facing them off with a set of reasonable, clear guidelines is helpful for everybody.

{Image Credit: mapichai via Free Digital Photos}

Get Your FREE Chapter of Jeremy's book -