Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.
Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.
There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.
Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.
Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.
An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.
To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.
If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.
Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.
If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.
It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.