How to manage distracted employees
As all managers know, workday distractions are everywhere, stealing your employees’ precious time and productivity. Between new technologies that beg for people’s attention to the prevalence of shortened attention spans, everyone on your team has the opportunity to be more distracted today than in the past. Of course, being distracted at work creates numerous problems from missed opportunities to strained business relationships. Therefore, you need to effectively manage your employees so their distractions are minimized.
First, realize that there are two categories of distraction. One is internal distraction, and the other is external distraction. Internal distractions include any physiological, emotional, attitudinal, biological, or physical discomfort. Some examples include having an upset stomach or a headache, worrying about a personal or professional matter, feeling overwhelmed with tasks, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, experiencing anger toward a co-worker, grieving a loss, etc. Any of these things can quickly take an employee off track from his or her tasks.
External distractions include other people and technology. Some examples include co-workers who stop by someone’s office to chat, social media and text alerts ringing on a smart phone, email notifications popping up on a computer screen, other employees who talk loudly in the office, etc. These seemingly innocuous items easily divert people’s attention.
The real challenge is that most employees aren’t experiencing just one or two of these distractions. They’re facing multiple each day. Consider this common scenario: A customer service representative is responsible for telephone, email, and chat communications. When a customer calls in, the rep has scripts to follow for each scenario. In addition to working from the memorized scripts, she is also instant messaging with customers and answering emails. In fact, her computer screen is divided into quarters: one quadrant has the details of the caller on the phone, and the other three quadrants are active chats she’s engaging in simultaneously. She’s also in an office space where the physical difference between her and the next customer service representative may be 5 to 8 feet. Even though she’s wearing a headset, she can still hear the other reps talking. The person to her right likes to stand while he talks, so that visually distracts her. The chair she is sitting on is old and uncomfortable. And because the company is trying to save money, they have the thermostat set to 80 degrees in the middle of summer. The distractions seem never-ending!
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