This is a guest post by Ben Branson
Heat and pressure can turn a lump of graphite into a diamond—or crush it completely. Change graphite into ‘employee’ and heat/pressure into ‘stress’ in the previous sentence and you have the two extremes of the typical workplace.
Some workplace stress benefits both employee and employer—it helps keep people focused and motivated on the job at hand. Too much stress wreaks havoc and ultimately results in a toxic working environment and its subsequent lack of productivity.
Unfortunately, identifying the causes and cures of workplace stress isn’t as simple as asking your Amazon Alexa. But there are several resources available to companies that help improve employee performance and lower stress levels.
Some studies have indicated that it takes, on average, over twenty minutes to re-engage your brain after it has suffered a mental distraction. While many distractions are out of our own control (meetings, visiting co-workers, external noises, etc.), many distractions are self-inflicted (checking social media, texts, emails, etc.).
A constantly distracted employee must continuously reorient themselves back to their task at hand. This loss of production costs both time and employee well-being. The time lost due to reorienting is a more direct cost to the company whereas the indirect cost comes at employee expense.
Time lost to trivial distractions creates a sense of urgency to complete a task—but now with limited time. This accelerated time crunch causes hurried work, employee stress and lower quality work.
To help prevent this type of workplace disruption, companies are now instituting several office policies that allow employees to minimize the number of distractions they encounter on a typical day. Such policies include:
- Large, common meeting areas for group projects while simultaneously providing employees with quiet, individual offices.
- Distraction free times—allowing employees time(s) during the day to unplug from ALL distractions—email, phone, text, co-workers. It’s the corporate equivalent of hanging a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your office door (and phone).
- Disturbance-free areas (quiet areas) for meditation, prayer, reflection or even yoga.
In essence, your brain doesn’t shift gears like a Formula 1 race car—it can’t engage and disengage instantaneously. Companies that acknowledge that and address it head on are ahead of the game.
People brag about their abilities to ‘multi-task’ and wear it like a badge of honor. In truth, NOBODY can deeply focus on more than one thing at a time and do it well. So stop encouraging a corporate mentality that rewards people who claim to be multi-tasking kings/queens. They’re lying.
Instead, companies should establish a culture that rewards employees who focus on their specific task and routinely accomplish that task. In a sense, employees that deeply focus on one task first before moving onto another BECOME multi-taskers because they efficiently and effectively take care of business the first time…and can, therefore, accept additional assignments because they efficiently handle their workload.
Breaks, the Right Kind
Even an employee who’s ‘in the zone’ and working at near peak efficiency on a single topic can’t stay there forever. Everyone needs a break to disengage. Sometimes that break comes after an hour, sometimes it takes several hours.
The key is flexibility.
In England, tea is served at four. No exceptions. Some employees do their best work in the mid to late afternoon. Sometimes, a company needs to let their employees decide when to take a break—even if it means that break doesn’t conform to traditional company norms.
When companies allow their employees time to focus on their tasks and provide the support network to make it happen, productivity increases across the board.