Distracted and Overwhelmed Employees Are Costing You Big. Try These 3 Fixes.


Distracted and Overwhelmed Employees Are Costing You Big. Try These 3 Fixes.



Pepperdine University Graziadio School Faculty Members

JULY 28, 2014

Information overload and the always-connected-24/7-work environment are overwhelming workers, undermining productivity and contributing to low employee engagement, according to Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report.

Small businesses, in particular, often function with the bare minimum number of employees. An overwhelmed team can significantly affect the company’s bottom line.

Brain research shows that performance on complex cognitive tasks decays with diffused attention. Interestingly, social media is one of the main reasons people report feeling overwhelmed.

According to the Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers’ 2013 Internet Trends report, the typical user checks his/her phone approximately 150 times every day. Phone checking instills a sense of an inner reward from scoring a personal, newsworthy or gossipy email or social-media notification. However, this type of smartphone preoccupation is an “addictive” behavior — it’s not only a time waster, it also is a direct contributor to feeling overwhelmed.

The Deloitte research found that “this constant and frenetic level of activity costs money, perhaps $10 million a year for mid-size companies. More than half (57 percent) of interruptions at work resulted from either social-media tools or switching among disparate standalone applications.”

What’s more, more than half of the respondents to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends survey believe “that their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.”

To address this, companies need a purposeful approach to helping employees identify and manage the triggers that lead to feeling overwhelmed. Below are some concrete ways for employers to help employees stay on task and on time.

1. Provide attention-management training. Managing attention is like managing money — once you spend it, it’s gone. By incorporating attention-management instruction into training sessions and annual reviews, employees will learn techniques to make the best use of their time.

For example, the website Mind Tools suggests that employers teach employees how to create action programs instead of to-do lists. Action programs incorporate short-, medium- and long-term goals that help employees prioritize immediate actions, keep track of projects they have delegated and maintain a list of the projects they plan to work on. This more extensive organizational system will help employees better manage their attention and those reporting to them.

2. Allow flexibility in the workforce. To the extent possible, employers should afford employees flexibility in how and when they get the job done. Working with employees to find a work schedule that accommodates both of your needs will go a long way in increasing employee morale, loyalty and productivity and potentially save your business money.

The benefits of adopting workplace flexibility arrangements can outweigh the costs by “reducing absenteeism, lowering turnover, improving the health of workers, and increasing productivity,” according to a report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Work-life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility.

It continues, “If workplace flexibility reduces absences by 20 percent and if all of this reduction translates into lower costs for employers, the implied savings to the U.S. economy due to flexibility are almost $15 billion a year.”

3. Set clear and consistent priorities.The number-one time-wasting activity is surfing the Internet for personal reasons, according to a recent poll from Survey.com. The poll also found that one-third of workers say they are unproductive because they don’t have enough to do.

Managers should communicate regularly with their employees about priorities and deadlines. Employees should also be encouraged to ask questions and periodically check in to make sure that they are meeting their manager’s expectations.

Also, it may seem counter intuitive, but encouraging employees to take a real lunch break can also help with managing priorities. If employees have an opportunity to unwind and use social media, or better yet exercise, during their lunch hour, they will likely be more productive and better at managing their attention later in the day.

Most employers — especially small-business owners — feel pressed for time and focus their limited resources on developing employees’ technical skills. However, one of the most important areas of personal and professional growth lies in helping employees manage their attention and energy.

Being engaged at work (whether in the office or at home) and focused on the immediate task at hand has been shown to increase resilience in the face of stress, provide clarity in dealing with complex situations, foster creativity and enhance emotional regulation.

Building a workforce where attention is treated as a precious resource can be achieved by instituting clear priorities, developing attention-management skills and allowing workplace flexibility. All of that will go a long way in reducing the state of overwhelm and move employees from a state of surviving to a state of thriving.

“The Overwhelmed Employee” – Business Leaders Must Act – re-posted article

“The Overwhelmed Employee” – Business Leaders Must Act
Josh Bersin  05/26/2014
Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive is an inspirational manifesto. It explains why we must redefine what success means: slow down, disconnect, get more sleep, and become more mindful about our lives. And as she argues, “health creates wealth.” — healthy and focused people are not only happier, they make better decisions, become better leaders, and drive greater value to their organizations.

Do business leaders understand this? Unfortunately, not yet.

Deloitte just completed a huge research study of people-related issues in global corporations (2500+ organizations across 90 countries) and found a tremendous gap in this area. While 2/3 of business leaders cite “the overwhelmed employee” as one of their top business challenges, only 9% are helping employees deal with it effectively. Gallup research research shows that only 13% of employees around the world are fully “engaged” at work and in China this number is only 6%. This means that more than 80% of all people around the world are “not fulfilled” by their experience and life at work.

No matter how much time we spend in mediation, exercise, or with family (Arianna Huffington’s recommendations to thrive), we still spend 2/3 of our waking hours at work. In fact 40% of us work more than 50 hours per week and we still hear of situations like the young investment banker in London who worked seven weekends in a row and later died from a seizure. We as individuals cannot thrive alone – we need employers, HR departments, and CEOs to help.

While most companies have not yet dealt with this issue, Fortune Best Places to Work like Google, Boston Consulting Group, and SAS have built amazing workplaces – environments where people line up the door to apply for jobs. These companies have created what we call a “Simply Irresistible©” workplace – one that not only attracts great people, but also gives them an environment to truly thrive.

Let me briefly mention the five keys to success in todays “Simply Irresistible” workplace.

1. Meaningful work.

The first and most important thing companies must do is give people “good work.” Jobs must give people enough autonomy to be creative and enough time to perform well. Even call center workers want time to learn, improve, and help customers. Study after study shows that companies that empower employees, give them the tools to succeed, and pay them well outperform those who constantly try to “reduce the cost of labor.” In todays’ economy nearly every business drives value through creative, service, or intellectual property. This means people are the product, and businesses must create jobs which give people dignity, purpose, and the ability to succeed.

2. Great management.

Management and managers form the backbone of every organization. Managers that criticize people, demand too much, or avoid communication create stress and fear among employees. Our research clearly shows that people thrive through coaching, feedback, and opportunities to develop. Too many companies promote high performers into management, finding later that these people are not interested in or suited to coaching others. Our research also shows that the old-fashioned performance appraisal often creates fear and reduces performance, further creating stress. (Read the Myth of the Bell Curve for more information.) CEO’s should demand that HR invest in the development of first and second line management – and reinforce the honor and responsibility to lead well.

3. Opportunities to grow.

People are “learning animals” – that’s why the #1 reason people leave companies is for lack of opportunity. Our research shows that companies that invest more heavily in training, career development, and mobility far outperform their peers in almost every industry. Companies that “over invest” in employee development give employees time and opportunity to learn and grow. The result: the business is more agile, innovation occurs, and people are more fulfilled. The cost is low and the payoff is high.

4. Inclusive, “loving” environment.

The fourth ingredient to being “irresistible” is to have a fun, loving work environment. Companies that have pool tables, nap rooms, free food, and flexible vacation time show that they care. These benefits are relatively inexpensive to provide but they give people an easy way to relax and contribute more. All the hottest silicon valley companies offer these kinds of benefits, and most offer far more. This is a trend we cannot stop – it’s a humane and loving way to treat people.

5. Leadership we can trust.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people want to work for organizations they believe in. The days of the hard-nosed, profit-obsessed CEO are coming to an end. While most companies expect people to work hard, CEOs now realize that it’s the “soul” of the business that really inspires people to contribute. Does your company have a mission you can relate to? Do your leaders trust employees to make the right decision?

Does your company feel inclusive and do you feel appreciated? These values of trust, consciousness, and soul start at the top.

Thrive is a wonderful book which teaches how to embrace “The Third Metric” in our lives. Now it’s time for CEOs and other business leaders to embrace these values and embed them into the fabric of our organizations.

Josh Bersin is the founder of Bersin by Deloitte and Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Bersin by Deloitte is a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at @josh_bersin and follow him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin.