As seasoned behavior change experts (or at the very least behavior change enthusiasts), we’re all familiar with the dangers of distracted driving. The proliferation of hands-free devices, countless campaigns targeting on-the-go texters, and mountains of statistics have pulled the issue to the forefront of public consciousness and into the crosshairs of behavior change professionals. But what about distracted working?
Picture this: it’s a typical day, and you take your seat behind your desk to complete a relatively routine task. It has to go to the client in an hour, but it’ll only take 10 minutes . . . so you decide to check in on your internet friends with a quick peek at Facebook. Hmmm, shots of your friend’s feet at a beach, photos of a baby you don’t know, status updates lamenting the drudgery of everyday existence. Is that your phone going off? Just a text. Quick reply. Maybe a skim of that football blog will turn up something interesting—is that a picture of a cat dressed like a person?! Are all 60 of these pictures of cats dressed like people?!
Poof. Your hour is up and you haven’t done any work. You’ve just distracted yourself into the business equivalent of a head-on car crash.
This example may be extreme and it can be argued that the distractions are less to blame than the incompetent, time-wasting employee. But an infographic from Trendhunter.com would lead one to believe that this is not the problem of a single fictional character with a soft spot for fedora-donning felines, but a widespread workplace behavior in serious need of change. Here are some highlights:
- The average worker admits to frittering away 3 hours per 8 hour workday, not including lunch and scheduled break time.
- Web surfing is the top workplace distraction, cited by 44% of respondents.
- A whopping 65% of YouTube viewers watch between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
- 77% of workers who have a Facebook account use it during working hours. One in 33 uses it exclusively during working hours.
- Fantasy football alone costs employers over $10 billion in lost productivity.
Frightening numbers, not only in terms of size, but because they shed an unseemly light on a complete disregard for workplace responsibilities.
But surfing and social media are not solely to blame. Everyday physical distractions in the workplace and good-intentioned multitasking can sap productivity in a similar way. Replying to client emails during an internal meeting, a noisy neighbor in the cubicle farm, and even a cluttered desk seem to come up time and again on the many lists of workplace distractions the internet has to offer (you’ll have to trust me on this one, if I included another link you’d be off down the rabbit hole and I’d only be contributing to the problem).
Regardless of the specific cause, it would be a stretch to say that the issue of distracted working is new in the behavior change arena. But it seems little is being done to actually change the behavior, which is likely due to the difficulty employers have in restricting the productivity-sapping distractions of the internet while harnessing all the good it brings to business.
I believe it was either FDR or Spiderman’s uncle who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For me, it seems to sum up the most practical and realistic approach to behavior change when it comes to distracted working . . . for all of us to remember that we’re at work.
But I’m open to ideas and would love to hear your thoughts on the issue of distracted working, potential remedies or behavior change in general.