Workplaces are swarming with distractions. They can be found in every nook and cranny of the office. A 2018 study by Udemy for Business found that more than half (54%) of workers aren't performing at peak levels due to workplace distractions.
Managers can be an especially toxic source. A distracting manager can derail an entire team, and their colleagues’ teams. As a leader, it's important to be on the lookout for distracting managers and take proactive and reactive measures to minimize the damage.
The good news? I’ve designed a 3-step antidote to ‘SAP’ distractions from your workplace.
When confronted with distracting coworkers, conversations, or noises, it can be easy to react rashly. Before you unravel in a frenzy, it’s important to stop and refrain from confrontation. While it seems counter-intuitive, it's often most effective to refrain from confronting distracting managers, either directly or via their boss. If the boss cared to or knew how to handle the distractor, they would. Confrontation is likely to backfire and result in revenge and sabotage. The more senior the employee, the more likely the employee is to seek revenge. Studies have shown that managers are most likely to resort to sabotage, followed by general managers. Your best bet is to strengthen your own team instead. When confronted by distractions, take deep breaths, calm yourself, and resist confrontation.
The second step to sapping workplace distractions is to take action. Taking action doesn’t mean reacting impulsively. It means carefully choreographing your strategy. The key is to be more engaging than the distracting manager. Just as in dance and theatre, strategic choreography is critical in making sure team members continue to work in lockstep, even in the midst of distractions. Make sure each of your team members understands how their performance directly impacts the business. By reminding your team members of their value, you'll divert their attention away from your distracting colleague toward their own work and performance. The results are powerful.
It’s also effective to align compensation with performance, and to remind your team of the cause and effect relationship between the two. Performance-based pay can be effective in incentivizing employees to focus on their work rather than on the distracting manager. There’s a lot of research that shows that performance-related pay is positively associated with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and trust in management.
The most effective leaders prepare their employees to develop shields against distractions. There’s a lot of value in doing this. Engage in brainstorming and empowering your direct and skip-level managers about the tools and tactics required to tackle and cope with distractions, including noise, negativity, and other annoyances.
Team meetings can function as a great opportunity to reflect and build on how to tackle distraction. During meetings, don’t shove distractions under the carpet. Instead, acknowledge that distractions do exist in the workplace. Praise your employees who have been effective at handling distractions. Invite them to share what worked and what didn’t. Invite all team members to vent and share coping mechanisms.
When armed with preparation, employees will be able to create an environment that minimizes the ill effects of distractions. Effective coping requires a high level of self-awareness. It's important that managers learn to be self-aware in order to deal with the stress caused by distractions. You also need to be aware of your own impulses if you want to prevent harmful distractions.
Every workplace has its own genre of the noisy eater, derailleur, Negative Nancy, or the Pessimistic Pete. Distracting managers are inevitable. It's important not to let distractions define your success. Instead, think of distractions as a challenge and as an opportunity to build your own leadership capabilities. Use the three-step SAP strategy to liberate yourself and your team from workplace distractions. As Ariana Grande reminds us, "I got one less problem without you."
I care deeply about helping leaders and advancing the human resources profession. I have authored two books, The Art of Executive Coaching and Stress-less Leadership, and maintain a regular blog. I am also a leading contributor for The Society For Human Resources Management, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Association of Talent Development.
As an active animal advocate, I donate 100% of all book proceeds to animal welfare.
The opinions in this article are my own, and do not reflect those of my publishers or employers.