Virtually everything about the way we work is changing, and we’d like to think it’s for the better. Companies regularly roll out new technologies and tools intended to help people do their jobs more efficiently, collaborate more effectively, and boost productivity. But they’ve also spawned new sources of digital distraction. The physical setting where we work has undergone a transformation, too. Open offices have become the norm, and no one thinks twice about bringing their smartphone to the office.

The Udemy 2018 Workplace Distraction Report analyzes survey data from over 1,000 U.S. employees and takes a deep dive into the top contributing factors to workplace distraction, the underlying business impact, and how employers can help combat the distractions that threaten their bottom line. Here are some of our key findings.

What’s causing distraction?

There’s a sense among employees that distraction in the workplace is a rising epidemic. Nearly one in four workers believe they’re more distracted now than they were in previous years.

The top causes of distraction include: chatty coworkers (80%), office noises (70%), feeling overwhelmed by changes at work (61%), and social media (56%).

Smartphone use has become a major source of distraction. More than a third of millennials and Gen Z (36%) say they spend two hours or more checking their smartphones during the workday. This adds up quickly to 10 hours a week when younger employees are doing something that’s unrelated to their job responsibilities. However, it’s not only younger employees who are being distracted by their personal devices: 62% of all survey respondents said they spend about an hour a day looking at their phones.

Across the general populace, 59% agree that personal use of technology is more distracting than work tools, and Facebook is far and away the top attention thief. A whopping 86% described Facebook as a workplace distraction. Technology is not the only culprit, though. 60% of our survey respondents said unnecessary meetings are just another distraction from the work they need to complete.

Who’s being distracted?

Millennials and Gen Z are most likely to describe themselves as distracted at work. 74% of them report being distracted, and of those, 46% say it makes them feel unmotivated, and 41% say it stresses them out. And while the workplace and nature of work itself may be somewhat distracting, an astounding 78% of millennials and Gen Z workers say personal activities are more distracting than work-related intrusions.

4 ways organizations can address workplace distraction

Our survey showed that employers currently aren’t doing much, if anything, to instruct workers on how to manage the constant barrage of noise, interruptions, and notifications in order to maintain performance. While companies may offer initial training on a new tool’s basic functionality, they’re not considering how these emerging productivity and communication tools fit into the broader landscape of distractions and, therefore, are not reaping all of the productivity benefits they seek. Here are four ways employers can address workplace distraction:

1. Train employees to better manage distraction

In our survey, 70% respondents agreed that training can help people get better at blocking out distractions and achieving focus. Employees need training on using technology efficiently at work as well as soft skill training on fundamentals like achieving focus and time management. For example, tips like turning off email or social media notifications can significantly help increase focus.

2. Provide additional one-on-one coaching for millennials and Gen Z

Our survey found that millennials and Gen Z were the most distracted at work. Having grown up with digital technologies as second nature, these generations may need the most help with managing distraction at work. However, although employees recognize training could help, 66% of respondents did not speak to their managers about this, perhaps feeling insecure about revealing areas of perceived weakness. Instead, consider assigning external coaches or mentors to help individual employees better balance personal activities and workplace demands. They may need to be taught to “hold back” on always reading texts, Slack messages, or emails in real time. Coaches or mentors that meet regularly with employees can help remind or nudge them to adopt new work habits and stay on track. Coaching also helps reinforce training and ensures that learning is applied and behavior change occurs.

3. Create some ground rules at work

As more workplaces adopt open floor plans and digital communication tools, organizations will need to consider developing ground rules so that employees can work productively. For example, a rule could be “if employees are wearing headphones, do not disturb them.” Another rule could include respecting colleagues’ personal time and avoiding sending messages on internal social channels on evenings and weekends. Organizations can also create separate quiet workspaces where talking is not allowed as a refuge for employees who crave some silence. In addition, establishing meeting ground rules is also important. For example, employees should only schedule and invite colleagues to meetings where their involvement is absolutely necessary and the meeting itself should have a clear agenda and outcome.

4. Offer remote working and flexible schedules

In addition, training alone won’t solve the distraction issue. Workers would also like more freedom to work remotely and follow flexible schedules; 52% said they’re more productive when not working in a noisy office. Employers that are committed to cutting down on distraction should consider which combination of training, support, and flexible work schedules would work best for their employees.

Focus is the key to engagement and productivity

Finally, there’s a direct connection between staying focused and productive and being an engaged employee. When people are engaged, they report being more motivated, confident, and happy and feel they deliver higher quality work.

Workplace distractions are only going to increase at the rate we’re going, but companies with a learning culture can stay attuned to where employees are struggling and design solutions and training that speak directly to their needs.

Our findings indicate companies would be wise to acknowledge the challenges their workers have staying focused and provide training on soft skills to help maintain productivity.

For more on distractions in the workplace and how to overcome them, check out our 2018 Workplace Distractions Report.

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