25 Workplace Distractions that Negatively Impact Productivity

Technology has made the workplace more potent than ever. Employees now have the power to do feats that only our ancestors can dream. However, many old and new problems with the workplace remain. Sources of distraction still tend to undermine performance. Given this, how can people recognize and deal with common workplace distractions?

The workplace can still harbor distractions, making it hard for employees to be productive. These distractions may come from others or the employees themselves. Technology also allows for new forms of distractions to surface. Everyone should be aware of these distractions so that they can prepare against them.

This article lists the top 25 common distractions encountered by employees in the workplace. Many of these distractions stem in a way from the employees themselves. Others come from more external sources and need more systematic solutions. Aside from the employees themselves, employers should also think about whether these distractions pose a problem within their organizations.

The Top 25 Distractions

Distractions are ubiquitous. A studyOpens in a new tab. shows that office workers are interrupted by distractions roughly every 11 minutes. Distractions prevent people from working on tasks without interruptions, but why exactly is it important to stay focused on the job?

When people are focused, they enter a state commonly called flow. They become so occupied in their work that they sometimes lose track of time. Job still requires effort during flow, but there should be a reduction in the perception of fatigue. Flow is a state of mind that encourages productivity, and distractions only prevent flow from being achieved.

Distractions make it harder to concentrate, and it can take some time for employees to regain their flow. It normally takes around 25 minutes for employees to return to their tasks once they have been distracted. Aside from productivity, distractions also make it easier to commit mistakes and to fail at noticing and correcting them. Finally, disturbances can decrease workplace safety, leading to more occupational accidents.

For people to prevent distractions from occurring, people must first know which disturbances are common in the workplace.

Here are the top 25 sources of work-related distractions:

A)   Personal Distractions

1) Hunger

2) Thirst

3) Sleeplessness

4) Stress

5) Temperature

6) Furniture

7) Decisions

8) Breaks

9) To-do lists

B)   Distractions From Others

10) Noise

11) Multitasking

12) Gossip

13) Visitors

14) Phone calls

15) Interruptions from workers

16) Meetings

17) Micromanagement

18) Overly strict rules

19) Toxic environments

20) Outside disturbances

C)   Digital Distractions

21) Email

22) Websites

23) Social media

24) Text messages

25) Smartphones

Personal Distractions

Many of the distractionsOpens in a new tab. of the workplace come from the people themselves. However, just because these distractions come from the self doesn’t mean that they are any easier to avoid. That said, dealing with personal distractions should be more straightforward, as the solutions usually rely heavily on the employees themselves.

1) Hunger

Everyone knows that people think worse when they are hungry. It’s just harder to concentrate when your thoughts are on the cheeseburger that you’ll eat during lunch hour. Despite the well-known effects of hunger, many people still insist on working on an empty stomach. They say that they don’t have time to eat or that they need to lose weight by skipping meals.

Hunger causes your blood sugar levels to drop. It limits the energy supply of your brain, potentially affecting your cognitive processes. Hungry people think slower and make more mistakes on the job. They also learn less and become more prone to other distractions.

Employees should make sure to eat three well-balanced meals a day to alleviate their hunger. Administrators can encourage them by making sure that they are undisturbed during lunch hour.  

2) Thirst

Close to hunger, thirst is another physical state that prevents people from working at their best. People say that thirst is already a sign of mild dehydration, which is why people should drink water whenever they feel thirsty. However, some people tend to ignore thirst when they are working, leading to further dehydration.

Dehydration can interfere with proper blood circulation, which makes it harder to transport nutrients and fuel to the brain. Dehydration makes it harder to think.

To remedy this, office workers should take regular water breaks. They should also have a cup of water within easy reach so that they can take a quick sip without having to interrupt their work. Administrators can help by making it easy to access water fountains within offices.

3) Sleeplessness

Completing the trifecta of bodily needs is sleepOpens in a new tab.. Many people associate sleep with laziness, but rest is essential in maintaining productivity. Without sleep, office workers become office zombies.

During sleep, there is a consolidation of memories for easier access in the future. The brain also flushes out toxic build ups during sleep. Chronic lack of sleep associated with poorer mental health and lower cognitive functions. Drowsy employees find it harder to concentrate and tend to become less accurate in their work.

Office workers should make sure to get a good night’s sleep before coming to work. Employers should also encourage napping, which increases focus and helps alleviate some of the effects of sleep deprivation. Some workplaces provide beanbags and even entire rooms to actively promote napping.

4) Stress

Stress is one of the most insidious sources of distractions in the workplace. In small amounts, it can be useful in motivating people towards action. However, it can also become overwhelming all too often, paralyzing people and preventing them from functioning effectively as employees.

The stress responseOpens in a new tab. prepares the human body either to fight or to escape danger. One of the effects of stress is the suppression of higher thinking processes. This reaction is meant to increase reliance on reflexes since speed can be a matter of life or death during emergencies. However, this mechanism also makes it harder to think logically during times of stress.

Office workers should have proper stress management skillsOpens in a new tab. to minimize the adverse effects of stress. Managers can help out by providing stress management training as well as opportunities for employees to unwind and destress.

5) Temperature

A pet peeve common among many office workers is the temperature. No one likes to work in a sweltering office. They would have to wipe the sweat off their skin continually. Excessive heat can be very annoying to office workers. In the same regard, cold offices can also be distracting. It’s hard to type a sales report if employees can’t stop shivering.

Employees should wear clothing that helps them deal with the office temperature. Office policies should allow them to do just that.

6) Furniture

Ergonomics is a field ignored when planning offices, especially for firms that want to cut back on costs aggressively. Buying cheap chairs, tables, and cubicles might seem like a smart investment at first. However, their real prices come when employees find it hard to work in comfort. In the worst case, poorly-designed furniture can increase workplace injuries.

If workers have trouble with the chairs and tables they use, they should have the freedom to communicate this to their superiors. Administrators should be responsive to the needs of their employees. They should not persist in using subpar equipmentOpens in a new tab., or otherwise, they will continue to remain distracted and at risk for occupational injuries.

7) Decisions

Decision fatigueOpens in a new tab. is an actual phenomenon that affects millions of people worldwide. Making decisions requires significant mental power, and repeated decision-making can make people mentally tired. Forcing a choice for inconsequential matters can indeed be very distracting.

One way to prevent decision fatigue is to build habits. Habits allow people to do basic tasks, such as answering emails upon arriving at the office, without having to make an explicit decision. The key to preventing decision fatigue is proper planning.

Designate a time, preferably during times where people can focus, when decisions for the future could be made. Employees should plan matters, such as what they will eat for tomorrow so that they have fewer choices to worry about in the future.

8) Breaks

Breaks are useful in helping people recharge after long periods of work. However, breaks can also be detrimental to productivity when they if not taken correctly. Some people tend to go to too many rests, or they might spend too much time on single breaks.

Excessive breaks are distracting because they keep people away from work. Companies deal with these situations by having policies that discourage employees from abusing their breaks. Imposing a time limit or setting a specific period for breaks can be both helpful.

9) To-Do lists

Surprisingly, to-do lists can be distractions if not used correctly. Some people spend hours rearranging their to-do lists instead of doing actual work. Handling a to-do list feels like productive work so that it can be an addictive source of satisfaction. However, people should know that planning work is different from actually doing a job.

People should experiment with different to-do lists and see which are the most effective for them. Many swear by simple lists jotted down on a sheet of paper. Some use Post-its stuck on the sides of their computer monitors. Others use electronic apps. Some formats work better in encouraging work than others, so people should try them out until they find the perfect one for them.

Distractions From Others

The workplace is a gathering of individuals working towards the same goals. Hence, much of the work required by businesses requires the cooperation of multiple individuals. People interact with each other, and sometimes distractions stem from these interactions. Recognizing these distractions is key to preventing them from negatively impacting productivity.

10) Noise

NoiseOpens in a new tab., by definition, is unwanted sounds. Many people dislike noise, and some hate noise so much that they can’t stand working properly in noisy environments. Unfortunately, there are multiple sources of noise in the professional setting.

From gossipy coworkers to bosses that like to yell, from noise office machines to poorly-maintained air ventilation systems, the workplace can be a noisy place. Aside from being distracting itself, noise also tends to increase stress levels, further compounding the perceived distraction.

To control the noise, managers should make sure to implement robust policies on noise. If possible, reposition cubicles so that noise sources are spaced as far from people as possible. For occupational noise, there should be proper hearing protection given such as earplugs.

11)  Multitasking

In the hectic world of business, people are tempted to do as many things as possible, all at the same time. Multitasking brings some semblance of relief, as people feel that they are maximizing the work they do.

In reality, multitasking can be detrimental to productivity. Constantly shifting attention from one task to another prevents concentration. Unlike computers, it takes some time for people to shift gears when they multitask. Over time, these time delays add up to significant lost productivity.

Work teams should discourage multitasking by setting reasonable deadlines for tasks. Proper planning also allows tasks to be completed one-by-one, as they should be. It might feel weird at first to focus on a single work at a time, but eventually, employees should have the satisfaction of finishing tasks one at a time.

12)  Gossip

Spilling the teaOpens in a new tab. on your coworkers might be a fun activity, but it can also be a significant distraction at work. Not everyone wants to hear about gossip, and disturbing a busy employee is just plain rude. Things become worse for the person targeted by all the talking, as they will find it hard to defend themselves from any accusations. The feeling of being ridiculed can make it hard to be productive.

Gossip is inevitable, but people should still play their part in minimizing its occurrence in the workplace. Coworkers should be more sensitive of what they relay to their friends; especially if there is no verification of the said pieces of information. The best solution is to stop spreading gossip in the first place. Finally, managers should know when to intervene, before rumor deals real damage to the workplace.  

13)  Visitors

There is a reason that most companies have strict rules on visitors. Aside from posing a security risk, visitors can also be distracting for employees. They might annoy employees with constant questions, and employees might have to be extra cautious so that sensitive information will not leak to the visitors.

Most decent establishments have security systems in place that help prevent cases like this from happening. However, those who work in virtual offices at home do not have the perks that office security systems can provide.

Employees who work at home should take steps to prevent visitors from distracting them. They should choose a private workspace that only they use. They should also establish proper visitation times so that they can work peacefully at other times. As for businesses, they should have policies in place that limit visitors from distracting employees while still making it easy for them to conduct their business within the company.

14) Phone calls

Phone calls are somewhat of a problem. You can’t gauge how important a call is until you answer it, so you have to take it to find out. In many cases, however, phone calls only serve to distract you from what you’re doing now.

Some establishments have hours where they accept calls while other businesses avoid calls altogether except in the case of emergencies. In this case, superiors should find out what works for them. Then they should implement them when necessary.

15) Interruptions from Workers

The open office setupOpens in a new tab. used to be the hottest trends in office space management. What led to its downfall was its tendency to encourage interruptions from coworkers. The lack of barriers made it easier for people to interrupt others even for trivial matters. The constant stream of distractions decreased employee satisfaction and undermined productivity.

Employees should avoid unnecessary interactions with people. They should learn to recognize if someone is too busy, and they should respect boundaries. In the same regard, employees should be firm in asserting their right to have an interruption-free workspace.

16) Meetings

Many firms are starting to revolutionize meetings. Some have even banned them altogether. Counterintuitively, meetings have turned from symbols of productivity to the bane of workplaces everywhere, and for a good reason. Many of these are just unnecessary. Poorly-planned ones can span for hours without leading to a concrete resolution.

Businesses don’t have to stop meetings, but they do need to use them more appropriately. Ideally, agendas should be set before the meeting starts. Novel techniques, such as making people stand up during meetings to prevent stalling, should also be tried and tested before being implemented.    

17)  Micromanagement

Almost everyone hates a boss that resorts to micromanagementOpens in a new tab.. It shows an utter lack of trust towards employees. It also prevents them from coming up with their strategies in handling their work. Micromanagement distracts employees by disrupting their workflow, as they need to follow other people’s procedures instead of using the ones they have.

Micromanagement also hurts leaders. For the managers, having to dictate every motion of the employees under them can easily overpower their capacity to direct and to lead. They have less time to make plans and to focus on goals. Hence, micromanagement can also be very distracting for managers.

Managers should reassess whether they are guilty of micromanagement. If they are, they need to stop before permanent damage inflicted on their relationship with their employees. They should also become more familiar with their workers. By having a more accurate view of their skill sets, managers are more able to provide them with meaningful work without resorting to micromanagement.

18) Overly Strict Rules

Company rules exist as a way of implementing peace and order within the workplace. However, sometimes they only stand in the way of higher productivity. Bureaucracy and red tape can become distractions; instead of doing actual work, employees may spend hours filing paperwork instead. Some rules prevent people from maximizing the time and resources available to them.

Sometimes, the implementation of the rules, and not the rules themselves, are the cause of all the trouble. A hardline approach to implementing company policy can sow fear into the hearts of employees, preventing them from functioning effectively within the company.

Executives should reassess the relevance of their company policies, ensuring that they bring more benefits than problems. If some rules need to be relaxed, then so be it.

19) Toxic Environments

From terror bosses to coworkers from hell, there are many sources of toxicity in the office. No one performs better in a toxic environment. Employees are forced to spend their time and resources in resolving problems instead of doing their work. Hostilities can endanger teamworkOpens in a new tab. and result in job dissatisfaction.

Managers should regularly do audits of the work environment. They should detect the presence of a toxic work environment, stamp out the root causes, and repair any damage.

20) Outside Disturbances

People placed near windows may sometimes find themselves staring into the outside world. While this is beneficial for them to relax, they might sometime take it too far. If an employee spends half an hour watching traffic go by, then there is a problem hereOpens in a new tab..

Employers should not place easily distracted people in places that abound with distractions. Some people can tolerate high levels of disturbance without worry, while other people fail to function correctly when even modest sources of distractions bombard them.

Digital Distractions

The rise of technology has provided many useful tools that have revolutionized the world. However, these same tools can become sources of distraction for many people if they mismanaged.

Many of these tools serve vital functions within the workplace, so deleting them is not recommended. Instead, employees should use more discretion when using these tools, as they have a significant potential for abuse.

21) Email

Like meetings, emailOpens in a new tab. has its public image changed drastically over the years. What people used to think as an essential component of any professional workflow is now relegated as outdated and unnecessary. Many firms have switched from email to other apps, given that dozens of messaging options now exist in the market today.

Emails earned their current reputation because of its pervasive nature. An employee usually handles dozens of messages every day, many of which require an urgent response for the sake of professionalism. There are some emails sent during unexpected times, such as after office hours. Sometimes, it can take days for other people to respond to an email, further complicating things.

However, email is still a mainstream way of communication, especially when trying to contact people from outside the organization. Many of the problems associated with email arise because of misuse; when adequately implemented, email can be handy tools.

One of the most effective sol to deal with email is, ironically, to limit access to it to certain times only. Some employees like to spend their first hour at work answering emails before moving on to other work.

These employees do not respond to emails at different hours. They usually ask people to contact them through other channels for urgent matters, instead of using email. This technique prevents email work from spilling into other periods that are supposed to be for different types of work.

22)  Websites

Websites are designed to grab attention. Hence, they are inherently distracting. Employees may decide to surf the Internet as a quick break, only to find that they have already spent two hours watching cat videos on YouTube. Other people might search online for memes, then become surprised that they have already spent half an hour searching for new content.

Websites are very significant sources of distractions. They tend to distort perceptions of time, as people become fully immersed with the content that they provide. For them to step up their game, many corporations already ban employees from accessing the Internet during office hours. This ban may take the form of security programs that either block popular websites from loading or disconnect the employee’s computer altogether from the Internet.

While this is indeed an option for companies, some people might find this too draconian. Some jobs, such as social media marketing, also require access to popular websites. In this case, it might be better instead to designate times when employees can access the Internet. This method allows them to work while minimizing the potential for abuse.

23) Social Media

Similar to other websites, social mediaOpens in a new tab. is already very pervasive. A large chunk of our social lives can previously be attributed to social media. The problem with social media is that it can also be very addictive.

It’s not unheard of to see people use social media for hours on end. Social media, like many websites, are designed to give instant gratification, making them compelling distractions.

Again, regulation is key here. Companies should set limits on social media usage, especially if employees do not directly need the service to do their jobs. Employers could also allocate a certain number of hours so that people can use social media responsibly. This method might be a necessity for jobs that require access to social media.

24) Text Messages

Text messages are powerful at eliciting responses from people. Unlike email, text messages seem more direct to the point. Some managers use this observation by communicating urgent matters through text messages.

However, other managers abuse this tendency by using the medium to send trivial messages, thus diluting the relevance of this channel. It can be very distracting to receive an emergency text, only to find out that your boss just sent some basic reminder to you.

Again, proper moderation and usage are key here. Managers should refrain from texting matters that are neither urgent nor important. Other media, such as emails or through personal communication, are more suitable for these types of messages.

Make sure to keep messages brief but accurate, and don’t send multiple text messages in a row. It should also be easy to understand for the parties involved, so avoid jargon or slang words as much as possible.

Common courtesy is also essential here. Refrain from texting employees when they are in meetings, presentations, or other important events. Bosses should also avoid texting outside of office hours.

When properly utilized, text messages provide a good avenue for important communications. However, misuse can easily destroy this advantage and lead to distracted workers.

25) Smartphones

A smartphone is a powerful toolOpens in a new tab. for business. It allows people to catch up on the news, communicate with clients, and conduct research while on-the-go. The flexibility of the smartphone opens up new ways to increase productivity. For instance, employees can use commute time more productively by reading up on the news.

However, smartphones also offer their disadvantages. They are products made for usage, and their design makes them prone to overuse. People can quickly become addicted to smartphone usage.

Smartphones provide easy access to social media and the Internet, which are two very powerful distractors. In particular, the constant notifications that some smartphone models provide can quickly wear down even the most focused employees.

For employees’ sake, there are software tools that can limit smartphone usage by blocking access during specific times or when they reach a certain quota. Employers could also implement policies that limit smartphone usage only to particular times.

Related Questions

1. Can people learn to resist distractions? Yes! WillpowerOpens in a new tab. is like a muscle that gets powerful the more people use it. The more people try to resist distractions, the more adept they become at battling future distractions. Employees should be actively encouraged to resist distractions on their own so that they can learn to increase their willpower.

2. Are all distractions at work bad? No. Distractions serve as breaks from work. Employees who are forced to work non-stop usually become less efficient at their job. As discussed above, breaks enable the mind to rest and allows new thoughts to be entertained, potentially resulting in greater creativity. Distractions are ways by which people seek breaks. Therefore, it would be better to manage distractions instead of eliminating them actively.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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