Workplace Culture

Poll: Social Life, Not Social Media, Is Work’s Biggest Distraction

By Rebecca Vesely

Jun. 27, 2012

Employees are more distracted at work by personal relationships than they are by mobile phones or social networking, a new survey has found.

The findings are contrary to previous surveys that suggest workers are increasingly distracted by online communications such as Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging.

Some 22 percent of employees surveyed said “personal relationship issues” were their biggest distraction at work, the poll by ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based employee assistance program provider, found.

By contrast, just 4 percent of those surveyed said personal communications tools such as a mobile phone, email, instant messenger or social media were the top distraction at the workplace, the poll of 1,236 workers found.

A far bigger distraction was “co-workers who want to chat,” with 19 percent of respondents citing this as the biggest reason they aren’t getting work done.

Sixteen percent said “challenges with work relationships” were their top distraction, and 15 percent said financial/legal problems were the issue most interfering with their ability to concentrate and get work done, the poll found.

Dave Pawlowski, clinical manager with ComPsych, says employees are using online communications at work, but many simply don’t view them as a distraction.

“They may be using these tools, but they are not seeing them as a distraction,” he says. “They see these things as helping them keep in touch. They are meaningful but not a distraction.”

By contrast, a marriage in trouble or a quarrel with a loved one can take precedence over work duties.

“Any time a personal relationship outside of work is not going well, that is a distraction,” Pawlowski says. “When it is going well, it gives people energy. They are better able to deal with anything going on in their lives. It works both ways.”

Employee assistance programs, or EAPs, can help people with interpersonal problems and stresses at home and thus make people more productive at work, he says.

The ComPsych findings contrast with previous surveys that indicated that social networking, email and other communications are interfering with work productivity. Among the earlier surveys was a report from Harmon.ie in May 2011 that indicated that these tools are costing employers millions of dollars each year in lost productivity.

The Milpitas, California-based company’s survey of about 500 employees found that nearly 60 percent of work interruptions involve email, social networks, text messaging or instant messaging, or switching computer windows between tools and applications.

Some 45 percent of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted and 53 percent waste at least one hour each day due to distractions of all types, translating to millions of dollars in lost workplace productivity, that survey found.

Nearly half of employees surveyed said their workplace had blocked access to social networks such as Facebook in an effort to curb digital distractions. Six percent said their workplace had instituted a “No Facebook Fridays” policy banning the social network one day per week, the survey showed.

Rebecca Vesely is a writer based in San Francisco.

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