Survey: Co-Workers Biggest Work Distraction

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 8, 2010
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Staying focused on the job has its challenges, according to a recent survey that found people and technology the most-often cited causes of distractions for U.S. workers.

And while 43 percent think that distractions at work sometimes impact how productive they are, a whopping 81 percent say their work has never suffered nor have they ever been reprimanded for doing subpar work as a direct result of workplace distractions.

Among the findings from a national survey that Workplace Options conducted in August 2010 with 606 workers:

  • 42 percent of workers have worked late or come to work early to avoid distractions.
  • 22 percent know of someone at work who has been fired for wasting time in the office, disrupting other employees or being a part of other distractions.
  • 24 percent cited people-related activities such as workplace romances and water cooler chitchat as the biggest workplace distraction.
  • 23 percent cited technology-related activities such as e-mails, phone calls, social media and Internet glitches as the second biggest distraction.

Other typical distractions, such as meetings and luncheons, noisy office surroundings and workplace celebrations were low on the distract-o-meter—12 percent, 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Although a majority of workers enjoy socializing with co-workers on the job, nearly one-third sometimes feel pressured into attending office social functions even if they do not have the time.

Handheld Devices

Among the 20 percent of workers who use handheld devices to read and respond to e-mail, 61 percent say it has not increased their workplace distractions and 58 percent said it increased their productivity.

One-third of all workers surveyed said workplace distractions in general occupy less than 5 percent of their time and 25 percent said they don’t experience distractions at work.

The survey covered a variety of business sectors, with the service industry figuring most prominently. Sixty-one percent of all respondents were ages 46 to 55.

What constitutes a distraction or interruption is a matter of perception, according to The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity, a 2005 paper from Basex, which provides research and advisory services for IT buyers.

“In looking at interruptions, it is important to determine whether something is important, urgent, or both. Many knowledge workers simply do not differentiate, or see everything as both important and urgent. Importance can also vary, based on the needs of the group or organization,” according to the paper.

Twenty years ago a worker simply could ignore the phone or close a door to sidestep potential interruptions, according to the paper. What has changed, it points out, is that “a typical knowledge worker now has an instant messaging client, an e-mail client, a mobile phone, a desk phone, stock quotes, news feeds, and a Web browser all competing for his attention … [to] ensure that a worker is inundated with a constant stream of information as well as a barrage of less-useful attention-grabbers.”

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