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Employees thought to be distracted and overloaded at work

Posted by Jesse Nunes  September 22, 2008 10:59 AM

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By Northeast Human Resources Association

More than 70 percent of human resource professionals of Northeast organizations believe their employees are too distracted and overloaded at work, according to a new e-survey by the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA). NEHRA, the premier human resources in New England with nearly 3,500 members, conducted the e-survey to determine if and how companies are combating the mounting distraction, speed, and overload issues marring work and home lives today.

"The results from our survey were not a surprise given the environment we are working and living in today," said Deborah Hicks, NEHRA's board chair and vice president of HR at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

"We understand this is a significant issue facing many organizations today and human resource professionals are constantly being approached to provide solutions to this mounting issue. This is why we have invited author and columnist Maggie Jackson to speak at this year's 'Leveraging the Talent Management Life-Cycle for Business Results' conference on November 5. We are thrilled that Ms. Jackson will be drawing on cutting-edge research from her new book to show how carefully honed skills of focus and attention can boost creativity, engagement, reflection, and deeper relationships." she said.

About 34 percent of human resource respondents reported in the survey that they believe their organization does recognize the new culture of distraction and overload has had an impact on employees performing their jobs well, while over 34 percent do not and 32 percent are not sure.

More than 52 percent of respondents replied they have been approached by employees at their organization because they are having a hard time focusing on their tasks at hand. In addition, over 70 percent of respondents replied they have been approached by employees who feel they have trouble achieving work/life balance. When asked if they have been approached by employees to get help, there was a 50/50 split, with 50 percent saying they have been asked for work/life solutions and 50 percent saying they have not.

E-mail interruption was reported to be the biggest distraction employees reported to human resource professionals taking this survey, followed by co-worker interruption, and PDA interruption. While e-mail interruption was cited as the biggest interrupter, only 9 percent reported their company had a policy in place for checking e-mail, while more than 88 percent reported not having any policies in place for checking e-mails. The most common e-mail policies reported by respondents included a 24-hour reply policy for e-mails that employees receive and a four hour reply policy if an e-mail is marked urgent.

More than 78 percent of those polled reported not having a "no interruption" policy in place for meetings, with only 17 percent reporting having a policy in place. Of those reporting a policy, the majority replied that employees are required to shut off all phones, PDAs, and laptops to help them focus on the meeting.

Furthermore, more than 86 percent reported not having an "interruption free" zone at work where employees can go for quiet space, while only 13 percent reported they did offer such a space.

Overwhelmingly, more than 93 percent report that they do not have an "away from office" policy in place for when employees are home or on vacation. Only 6 percent reported having a policy in place. The most popular policy reported is one that requires employees to turn on their office attendants on their e-mail and leave a voicemail of their absence as well as when they will return and back-up contacts for people to get in touch with in case of an emergency.

When HR professionals were asked what the best policy they came across to help employees be less distracted at work was, the responses varied. Some included "think Fridays" where no meetings are allowed to be scheduled on a Friday. Others included turning off the e-mail notification sound, setting specific check e-mail times, allowing more flex time for employees to work from home, no speakerphone use in cubbies, and implementing wellness programs that focus on developing relaxation and focusing techniques.

About NEHRA and the survey

About 3,500 HR professionals, representing large and small companies in all industries within the region, as well as individuals providing products and services to the human resources community, comprise NEHRA's membership base. A total of 271 NEHRA members and nonmembers responded to the online survey, which was conducted from Aug. 15 to Aug. 29, 2008.

NEHRA is New England's premier human resources association. Since 1985, NEHRA has provided HR professionals with programs, information and relationships that stimulate professional growth and enhance workplace contributions. The mission of the Northeast Human Resources Association is to lead, advance and influence the management of human resources and its impact on organizational success. For more information, visit

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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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