When asked about the single greatest detractor of workplace productivity, most employees, and especially managers, will incorrectly cite workplace meetings or meeting mismanagement. While it is certainly true that a great amount of productivity is lost to these things, the real answer is workplace interruptions, especially given the push to open-office floor plans. While this design trend was intended to facilitate more communication and collaboration, it no doubt carried an unintended downside. The lower cubicle walls, communal snack bars and break rooms, and removal of office doors bring heightened interruptions, as well as concerns over keeping information confidential. A study by the University of California Irvine found that employees who work in open floor plans have 29% more interruptions than employees in offices.
Multiple research studies have found that interruptions have a negative effect on employee engagement, job satisfaction, stress levels, and job performance, ultimately resulting in lower productivity and increased absenteeism. These adverse effects of interruptions cost an estimated $588 billion a year in the US, according to Basex Research. One of the biggest contributors to this staggering cost is the fact that after an interruption, it takes an average of 25 minutes for the employee to get back to the task at hand.1
While some of the workday interruptions are from external sources such as coworkers, emails, a telephone ring, texts, and social media, shockingly, 44% of the interruptions occur when we interrupt ourselves, which seems both ironic and counterintuitive.2
So, what are some solutions to eliminate the thief or workplace productivity? Here are some effective and proven solutions:
- Say “no” or “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now,” when interrupted by a coworker. Don’t feel guilty about not always being available to chat.
- Become more mindful of interrupting your coworkers. When you curb your habit of stopping by to chat, it’s likely they will follow suit.
- Avoid self-distractions. Put your personal cell phone on silent or do not disturb, and close out of social media accounts. Resist your urges to check notifications and messages that aren’t related to work.
- When you really need to concentrate, consider relocating to a conference or meeting room.
- Use noise-cancelling headphones.
- Physically establish a “No Interruption Zone” within the workplace.
- Use a physical signal to indicate you do not want to be interrupted. Many professionals in high-risk jobs do this to lower errors rates and mistakes. For instance, I have heard of many hospital pharmacy workers who wear a yellow sash when filling medications to signal that they do not want to be interrupted while conducting this sensitive work.
- Declare one day out of the week to be interruption free, such as “Interruption Free Thursday.” During two to three hours that day, workers would be prohibited from interrupting each other.
- Use technology: Many workplaces are adopting use of a “Busy light” to formally signal when people are busy and do not want to be interrupted. (There are multiple brands of this product available). Using a status indicator like a red light allows your colleagues to see from a distance that you do not want to be disturbed. Conversely, if the light is green it indicates you are free to talk.
Avoiding distractions in the workplace takes self-discipline, and it might seem like you’re missing out on the fun of interacting with coworkers. But when your quality of work goes up, and the time to do the work goes down, it’s easy to see that your efforts are worth it.
Now, go interrupt your team members one last time by giving them a copy of this article.
1 University of California – Irvine Study
2 Dr. Gloria Mark Study – University of California – Irvine