Performance management principles: staying focused at work

What does it mean to be focused at work? Whether you’re putting headphones on to zone out distractions in an open plan office or have a clear path ahead of you full of career goals and milestones, creating and maintaining focus is critical to performance in the workplace.

The word focus itself has a number of definitions, especially when it comes to the world of work. That’s why I wanted to unpick it in this part of our performance management principles series.

So, this week I’m going to address some myths, issues, and opportunities when it comes to focus in the workplace.

Focus, distraction, and technology in the workplace

The impact of smartphones

Two colleagues looking at smartphone instead of focusing on work

According to research published in 2018 from the UK’s telecom regulator Ofcom, on average people check their smartphones every 12 minutes of their waking day, 71% never switch their phones off, and 40% check their phones within 5 minutes of waking.

With statistics like these, it’s no wonder focus levels are decreasing. However, the answer to the problem of productivity doesn’t lie in a ban of using phones in the workplace. Employees of many organisations rely on smartphones to do their jobs: supermarket shopfloor workers may need them to check stock levels, engineers need them to contact their clients, and delivery drivers need them to contact customers.

Instead, it’s worth considering how you can integrate smartphones into the working day and also worth paying attention to those who are able to focus for longer periods of time away from these distractions.

The distraction of your inbox

Office worker losing focus due to email notifications

It’s important to understand that distractions from smartphones don’t mean a reduction in productivity. In office environments in particular, it is often our inboxes that cause the most distractions. The launch of Microsoft’s new MyAnalytics program is a great way to monitor this on a personal level.

As we discussed in our soft skills time management article, a great way to combat this is to set aside specific periods of time in which you respond to emails. This way you can get on with the work that really matters instead of getting weighed down by endless cycles of conversation.

Objectives, motivation, and career-driven focus

Employee-led objectives

Employee working with manager to focus on objectives

Working in conjunction with your employees to set objectives is a great way to help them maintain focus in their day-to-day working lives as well as in their careers in the long term. While there will always be a need to make sure employee objectives tie in with the direction that your organisation is heading in, it’s incredibly important to morale, employee engagement, and intrinsic motivation to led your employees lead the way with the direction they wish to take their careers.

A great way to keep up this goal-oriented focus is to organise regular check ups with your employees. Different frequencies work for different circumstances, but we are seeing a shift away from yearly performance reviews and more of a focus on quarterly or even more regular check ups. Performance management should be flexible, and using a flexible system will help you and your employees get where you need to go.

Long-term goals

Young woman working at home focusing on long term goals

Tying in to my point above, long-term career goals help your employees to focus more on their jobs. Having a clear direction in the bigger picture can help focus on the tasks at hand, as well as help them to drive their own development.

Performance management is all about progress, and maintaining this long- and short-term focus is a great way to enable that. A great way to increase employee engagement is to really invest in the future of your people. As a manager, your role is to help them flourish in and out of their current role. An employees’ long-term goals may not include your organisation, but investing in their goals now means you’ll both get the best out of each other while they’re still around (and they’re likely to stick around longer)

Workloads, burnout, and multitasking

Focusing on one task at a time

Cartoon man unable to focus surrounded by requests from other people

While many people may pride themselves on their ability to multitask, in the workplace it can actually reduce productivity by up to 40%. Switching between tasks causes a lapse in productivity, as does shifting your mindset from one type of activity to another.

In any workplace, it is inevitable that employees will be pulled off of one task and onto another every now and then, especially during the busy periods. But one way to ensure high productivity and improved performance is to give your employees the space and help to prioritise their work and focus on one thing at a time.

Moving away from a yes-man culture

Man surrounded by piles of paperwork unable to focus with burnout

Burnout can often come as a result of employees feeling that always saying yes is either a must, or it will be beneficial to their careers. In management, it’s our responsibility to create an environment where that isn’t the case. It’s important to give your employees the power to say no when they are already overloaded, or to help them reprioritise if something urgent comes along.

Burnout is on the rise, and it causes sickness, decreases in productivity, and lowers the standards of work produced. Shifting your workplace and performance management culture away from this expectation is a long-term challenge, but with the right tools and strategy in place, you can increase performance, focus, and staff retention by giving employees more autonomy and the freedom to say no.

Conclusion

Focus has many long- and short-term benefits to both organisations and individuals. Whether you’re looking at career focus, clear priorities, or simply the ability to concentrate in the working environment, increased focus leads to increased productivity, improved performance, and stronger employee retention. The best thing we can do is to create an environment where it’s ok to say no, ask for help, and work in a way that suits their ability to focus on the task at hand.

Want to improve short and long term focus in your organisation? Take a look at our performance management template to help get you started.

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