This one person in your office could be jeopardising your productivity
Image: chalermphom_tiam/Shutterstock

This one person in your office could be jeopardising your productivity

20 Mar 2018

Online learning platform Udemy has launched its 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, and concluded that certain people in your office could be derailing your workday.

The problem of how best to improve office productivity has evolved into a kind of million-dollar question for employees and employers alike.

Employers obviously want to protect their bottom line, but also want to know how the drastic changes undergoing the modern workplace will impact how workers go about their day.

In turn, most employees want to perform to the best of their ability at all times and don’t want to be hampered by anything that could impact their productivity in a serious way – but what are the greatest sources of distraction for workers?

Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report

Online learning platform Udemy recently released the 2018 edition of its Workplace Distraction Report. The company analysed survey data from more than 1,000 US employees in the hope of illuminating what exactly is leading so many people off track at the office.

According to the results, seven out of 10 employees report being affected by distraction, with 16pc characterising themselves as “always distracted”. Despite this, 66pc of employees say they have never broached the subject of distractedness with a superior.

Furthermore, 23pc of respondents reported that they feel more distracted at work now than in previous years.

Is technology to blame?

The survey indicates that 61pc of employees feel overwhelmed by changes at work. Though the report does not specify what changes in particular are to blame, it’s likely that the proliferation of both personal and workplace technology is having an impact.

Almost 70pc of millennial workers admit that checking personal devices is a huge source of distraction, and the survey argues that millennials and Gen Z workers are more likely to report being distracted at work.

While 56pc say that compulsively checking social media is distracting at work, only half (51pc) say their employers have restrictions on use of social media at work.

What is interesting to observe is that while distraction is reported across all ages of the working demographic, technology interrupts productivity in different ways.

For the young, brief breaks from work to scroll through social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are by far the most distracting. Older generations, however, are less drawn to their phones and more delayed by engaging with workplace technology.

Graph: Udemy Workplace Distraction Report 2018

This is an intuitive finding that demonstrates how different levels of technological adeptness manifest.

Younger people essentially grew up with technology at their fingertips, and so have the proficiency to both breeze through using tech in the workplace and derive enough enjoyment from technology that it risks distracting them.

Older generations are by and large less comfortable using technology because they didn’t grow up with it. By extension, they are more inclined to struggle with switching to new technology in the workplace and less inclined to trust technology enough to embrace social media.

Chatty Cathys and open offices

Chatty co-workers was reported as the number-one contributing factor to workplace distraction (80pc), followed by office noises (70pc).

Office noises have been pervasive for years, but the rise of open-plan offices makes it more likely that the sound of Joanna from the accounts department loudly eating crisps will reverberate around the office.

The same goes for talkative cohorts. Chatty co-workers have always existed – and, as a card-carrying chatterbox, the author would never advocate for their vilification – but open-plan offices mean that employees literally have fewer walls between them, which makes it more likely that conversations will begin.

It’s worth noting that any employer who earnestly thinks they should discourage their employees from socialising or eating crisps to improve their bottom line should probably re-evaluate their attitude towards their organisation.

Ultimately, that kind of empathy-devoid thinking will not only sow seeds of discontent in the hearts of employees, but it fails to take into account the creativity-bolstering effect of free and open conversation, even if said conversation isn’t directly related to work.

Are we too obsessed with productivity?

Even though many agree that the best way to survive the future-of-work revolution and the looming threat of potentially job-replacing AIs is to leverage the most human skills and traits, there is still a widespread fixation on maximising our outputs.

Dropbox’s Adrienne Gormley has said that productivity is a creativity-killing buzzword that has inspired people to use productivity apps and strategies to such excess that it engenders “cognitive overload”.

It also demands mention that employers becoming overly fixated on productivity risks resulting in employees being treated entirely as commodities.

If you wanted to, you could probably increase the amount of time employees spend at their desks by putting a cap on daily allowed bathroom breaks. This would be pretty inhumane, and certainly constitutes the absolute logical extreme that almost no employer would entertain, but it demonstrates pretty well how dehumanising a project on managing worker productivity can become.

Employees also have enough intuition to recognise when they are being objectified in this way, and are quick to sour at the thought of their managers treating them as such. As a result, widespread unhappiness is almost guaranteed to kill productivity.

So yes, research may say that chatty people and crisp-eaters may be the people most undermining productivity – but perhaps the person really causing the most distraction is the one trying to treat their workers like machines.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading