What’s Getting In the Way Of Your Productivity?

A new study illustrates a common productivity killer for many employees. Find out if you’re affected as well as some methods for maximizing workplace efficiency.

The answer to question of what’s killing your productivity might be work overload, at least according to a recent study that found nearly 70 percent of employees are suffering from an overabundance of work.

That’s a 14 percent increase from last year, according to Cornerstone On Demand, which conducted “The State of Workplace Productivity Report” [PDF]. And, while survey respondents are also feeling overwhelmed with information and technology, two-thirds said work overload was the most detrimental to their productivity.

Cornerstone identified the paradoxical cycle of overwork as such: The more work employees have to do, the longer hours they work, and the longer they work, the less productive they become, which only means they have to work more hours.

This conundrum is echoed in other research findings. For example, a University of Toronto study found that workers who skipped lunch breaks had lower levels of productivity.

John Trougakos, associate professor of organizational behavior and HR management and coauthor of the study, reasoned that working through lunch drained employees’ psychological energy, of which we only have a limited amount.

“All efforts to control behavior, to perform, and to focus draw on that pool of psychological energy,” Trougakos told Fast Company. “Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything that we do.”

Even though it sounds counterintuitive, taking a break can prove restorative and help maximize your time and energy spent on work.

What’s the ideal break time? Seventeen minutes for every 52 minutes of work, according to a recent study conducted by social networking company the Draugiem Group. Using its own app that tracks employee productivity by monitoring and analyzing workplace computer use, the company found that the most productive employees worked intensely for roughly an hour then took about a quarter of an hour break.

“The employees with the highest productivity ratings, in fact, don’t even work eight-hour days,” Julia Gifford, a manager at Draugeim Group, wrote in The Muse. “Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer—but working smarter with frequent breaks.”

Some other possible antidotes to lost productivity are flex time or teleworking, according to Cornerstone, which found that, out of the 2,000 American workers it surveyed, 65 percent reported that a flexible or remote work schedule would help increase their effectiveness on the job.

A number of studies have shown that working from home leads to an increase in the amount of work employees are able to do in a day. One Stanford University study found, for example, that Chinese call-center workers were able to complete almost an extra day’s worth of work per week compared to their in-office counterparts.

“One-third of the productivity increase, we think, was due to having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls,” Nicholas Bloom, one of the study’s coauthors, told Harvard Business Review. “At home people don’t experience what we call the ‘cake in the break room’ effect. Offices are actually incredibly distracting places.” This finding supports arguments against open office plans.

Bloom also suggested that working from home means more time spent working. “[Teleworkers] started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day,” he said. “They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch.”

While full-time teleworking may not be an option for everyone, a day spent working outside the office every once in a while may help you get tackle a few to-dos more efficiently.

Do you get distracted at work or feel the weight of having too much to do in not enough time? Let us know how you stay productive at work in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!