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July 2018
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TD Magazine

Combat the Distraction

Employees are more distracted than ever, and talent development can help.

Did you know that more than a third (36 percent) of 18- to 37-year-olds say they spend two hours or more per workday—or at least 10 hours per week—checking their smartphones? That's according to Udemy's 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, which also found that most employees across all generations spend at least an hour per day looking at their phones. Combined with other distractors—such as chatty co-workers, office noise, and changes in the workplace—this issue can cause serious harm to a workforce's productivity.

To help alleviate workplace distraction, which 75 percent of employees say would help improve their productivity, organizations can start with training. Most employees (70 percent) believe that training can help block out distractions. However, two-thirds of those who think training would help haven't spoken to their managers about it.

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Why? "People are afraid," says Darren Shimkus, general manager of Udemy for Business. "When you have a silent thief of productivity and companies aren't talking about it—which they aren't—it becomes very difficult to make yourself vulnerable and talk to your manager about what's hurting your performance."

To overcome this dynamic, Shimkus recommends that companies start with culture. "If your organization has a culture of learning, you create a culture of inquisitiveness that gives permission to ask what are oftentimes hard questions," he explains. Then, after establishing that culture, he suggests taking a two-step training approach. First, learning professionals should start the conversation. "When you bring people together and facilitate a conversation about the issues of distraction and device management, you bring these issues into the open," he notes. The second step is to offer instructor-led training to introduce different tools and processes for managing distraction.

Learning programs can't be the only solution, though. Shimkus suggests that flexible and remote work options can also help because they enable employees to escape what may be distraction-filled office environments and focus on high-priority work. "Training can jump-start the conversation, but we can't declare victory until learning, flexibility, and dialogue are culture norms in all of our organizations," he concludes.

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About the Author
Alex Moore is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development. Prior to that role, he served as the research coordinator for ATD, writing content for the research department, managing its Twitter account, and assisting with data collection and analysis. Alex graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in English.
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