How Technology Hinders Workplace Productivity (and What Employers Can Do About It)

Technology offers us a myriad of psychological benefits. With its infinite abilities to constantly connect us with others, entertain us, inform us, and distract us, technology can fulfill virtually our every need. Each encounter with technology is positively reinforced: there is an immediate reward for engaging in this behavior, increasing our likelihood of doing it again.

But at what expense?

As one consequence of this behavior, many fear that this constant, tantalizing distraction will greatly hinder one’s productivity, particularly in the workplace.

They would be right.

Technological distractions are everywhere. Because we can use technology to seek exactly what it is that we want (be it entertainment, information, or connections to others), it will invariably be a more desirable option than the requirements bestowed upon us by others (read: work duties).

For instance, as an alternative to completing a work assignment, an employee may use his or her phone to text a partner or friend, use the internet to read the news or check sports scores, check or update social media pages, watch videos or listen to songs on various websites, and plenty more.

The options are limitless.

The first days of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March are widely believed to be among the least productive days across all employees. Technology has allowed us to not only keep tabs on the scores of those games, but also to watch them in real time. The sites making this possible have even included a “Boss Button” on the same page as the video feed. When clicked, the page instantly transforms into something that is vaguely productive-looking.

The fact that this button even exists is a testament to the understanding that, left to their own device, employees will often choose the distraction over the duty.

How does an employer circumvent this? What parameters can be put in place to increase the chances of productivity in the workplace and not succumb to the tempting distractions that are everywhere around us? Many employers will have internet restrictions in place so that common websites are blocked from one’s access. With cell phones being able to do basically as much as a computer can, however, this is largely ineffective.

Below are 3 ways that employers can increase employees’ productivity when it comes to technological distractions, without being punitive.

1.  SET STRICT BUT ATTAINABLE DEADLINES: Depending on the nature of the business, there may be open-ended deadlines for various projects to be completed. Or perhaps there are several different items being worked on simultaneously.

Whenever possible, limit the number of tasks on which one is concurrently working, and provide ambitious deadlines for completion. This will result in the employee recognizing that he or she does not have the opportunity for distraction because of an imminent deadline that must be reached. When faced with “crunch time,” most employees are able to put aside distractions temporarily to meet a deadline.

Be careful not to implement this strategy too often, however, as it can take on a flavor of being micromanaged.

2.  SET PRODUCTIVITY GOALS: Punishing an individual for not being productive, or putting childlike restrictions in place (such as blocking various website access), is not nearly as effective as rewarding someone who chooses to be productive. This reward need not, and indeed should not, be in the form of monetary compensation or other external benefit.

Instead, publicly (within your organization) recognize the individual(s) who attain a particular mark or reach a certain level of performance. As human beings, we can become accustomed to putting up with negative consequences of our actions (especially if those actions are at least providing short term rewards like entertainment and distraction). What we can’t do, at least not forever, is continue to thrive without feelings of accomplishment and some level of recognition for our positive performance and contribution.

Seeing others attain this motivates us to want to attain the same thing. If there are things in place within your organization to internally motivate people to perform to a certain level, it is more likely that individuals will choose the distractions less and work more toward being productive.

3.  RUN A CONTEST WITHIN YOUR OFFICE: We have all heard of the “game” dining patrons play whereby they each place their phone in the middle of the table and the first to touch theirs must foot the bill. There are also restaurants that will offer discounts to patrons for turning in their cell phone at the beginning of a meal.

Come up with ways to implement these practices in your office, especially if the use of a cell phone is not imperative to completing one’s work duties. Offer rewards or incentives to individuals for not using their phone throughout the day.

Remember, computers and internet access can be more tightly controlled than individuals’ phones. Getting an employee to give up his or her cell phone for some period of time will result in that individual having “nothing better to do” than work!

The harsh reality is that even the most well-intentioned employees will succumb to the temptation to check their e-mail, read the news, check a sports score, or watch an entertaining video (or 15) during work hours. Technology has made it possible for us to be constantly positively reinforced and rewarded for engaging in these distractions. The only way to “beat” technology is to set up environments in which it is more appealing to the individual to avoid technology than it would be to use it!

This is the third installment of the Psychological Effects of Technology series. Topics include how we have come to be so dependent on technology, the effects technology is having on us individually, the effects technology is having on our relationships with others, and what we can do about our reliance on technology. Help these conversations happen. Please post your comments and questions to my Facebook Fan Page or share this article on your own Facebook profile. Follow me and tweet at me on Twitter @Bevacqua_PhD, or simply print these articles and share them with loved ones. 

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How to Minimize Your Fear of Failure

Sports have taught me so many valuable lessons in my life. From teamwork to hard work, to how to appropriately experience successes and failures, I don’t know where I would be without the values instilled in me through athletic competition.

I am proud to say that, for the last two years, I have served as the head coach of a high school girls softball team and have tried instill as many of those values in my team members as I can. One of the hardest things to do, I’ve learned, is to teach someone how to pick herself up after a failure and try again. Harder still is trying to convince someone to try at all when failure is a possibility.

I was reminded of this difficulty just a few days ago. Tryouts completed and all three levels of teams (varsity, junior varsity, and freshman) finally set, the discussion among my girls shifted to why a handful of last year’s players had not tried out this year. Some of them had chosen to become involved in different things: choir, the school play, a job, and other extracurricular activities. For some, their family had moved within the last year and they were now attending school in another city. Some, another state.

While I was saddened for myself and my team that many of these girls had moved on in one way or another, I was comforted in knowing that many of them were still participating in activities that they chose to pursue. And while I don’t know for sure, I hope that those who relocated are playing softball at their new school. There is one category of non-returners, however, that continues to bother me:

“They said they didn’t think they would make a team so they didn’t bother trying out.”

Wayne Gretzky, one of the all-time hockey greats, put it best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

A MATTER OF PRIDE

For the next couple of months, two groups of girls will be sitting at home, not playing softball: the ones that tried out and were cut, and the ones that didn’t try out at all. So what is the difference between those two groups who ultimately will be doing the same thing? Their source of pride.

Many people, including myself, would agree that those who tried out have much more to be proud of than those who did not. They were the ones that gave it a shot, regardless of the likelihood of success. They were the ones who decided that the benefits of success, should it occur, outweighed any downside to failure. In fact I hesitate to use the word failure here. I preach to my team all the time that failure does not mean not succeeding. You haven’t failed until you stop trying.

However, as I talked about in my last post, I understand that not everyone is like me. Not everyone agrees that trying and coming up short is better than not trying at all. Indeed, the handful of girls who chose not to try out have their pride intact as well, but for a different reason. By not subjecting themselves to evaluation and a potential lack of success, they prevent any chinks in their pride armor from occurring. They will continue on, feeling good that they did not allow someone else to tell them that they weren’t good enough.

The most unfortunate part of the story? There is at least one girl who chose not to try out that not only would have been selected to be on my team, but likely would have been a starter. Her fear of failure prevented this from happening. Protecting her pride was more important to her.

RECOGNIZING WHEN FEAR OF FAILURE OCCURS

As with most things in life, two things hold true regarding a fear of failure: recognizing it in others is easier than recognizing it in (or admitting it to) ourselves, and it is easier to advise others to “just try, anyway” than it is to convince ourselves of the same thing.

Pay attention, and start to count the number of times you are encouraging others to try something compared to how many times you consciously encourage yourself to do the same. I guarantee the former number will be higher than the latter; in most cases it’s not because, despite what we all want to believe about ourselves, we try more times than others do. We all require encouragement from outside ourselves at times, and that is precisely why we have parents, teachers, coaches, and best friends.

FOSTERING A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE TRIES

As I mentioned at the end of the first section above, both groups of girls (those that did not make a team and those that chose not to try out) potentially could have their pride intact: the former because of their effort and the latter because they avoided the chink in the armor. If pride is the ultimate goal, then, how do we foster a society full of people who are willing to try? The concept is straightforward but the implementation will be an uphill battle. In short, we must begin to celebrate the process, not the outcome.

Perhaps in this case, Miley Cyrus (twerking aside) said it best when she sang, “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Ultimately, we can achieve this if we do a few things:

1)      Focus on Self-Improvement: Whether it be athletic competition, playing an instrument, taking a test in school or a performance review at work, focus on doing better than you did last time. When the basis of comparison shifts from others to a previous version of yourself, you can feel proud of your improvement regardless of external evaluations.

2)      Focus on the Self-Improvement of Others:  Try as we might, even when we tell ourselves the right things, we are much more likely to believe the feedback of others over our own. This means that others are more likely to believe what you say over what they tell themselves. So when it comes to our children, our friends, our teammates, our students and our work subordinates, focus on self-improvement, rather than a comparison to others. You’ll be surprised at the results.

3)      Focus on Effort: Whether you’re telling yourself or telling others, adopt the “Always try your best!” mantra. Effort is one thing that is always entirely within one’s control, meaning it is something that we can do successfully every time, if we so choose.

If we make effort and self-improvement, rather than any other external standard, the ultimate sources of pride, we can foster a community of individuals who have many opportunities each day to feel great about themselves.

You miss every shot you don’t take. Take your shot and help others take theirs, too.

 

 

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How to Reduce Frustration in Your Life in 3 Easy Steps

Frustration is a terrible feeling, and no one is immune to its negative effects. But where does frustration come from and how can we lessen its impact? Below are three easy steps to minimizing the impact of frustration in your life.

1. UNDERSTAND WHERE FRUSTRATION COMES FROM

The first line of the “frustration” page on Wikipedia defines the concept nicely: “In psychology, frustration is a common emotional response to opposition.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgement) In general, the source of that opposition is going to come from one of two places: from within yourself, or from others. Today, I am going to focus on the latter.

All too often, we end up judging others by using ourselves as a basis for comparison. When we encounter those who differ from our way of thinking, our way of life, or even our daily preferences, we can become frustrated if we perceive those differences as somehow impeding our progress. Our judgment creates barriers, and those barriers yield frustration.

Whoever said opposites attract…well, I don’t buy it. I absolutely believe that there can be an interest in different things but when we seek comfort, however, we seek commonality. On the contrary, when we encounter opposition we become primal in our response, as if our very survival was at stake. That is why aggressive tendencies often ensue when we feel frustrated. Frustration turns to anger, which can lead to physical aggression if not handled or mitigated properly (think: road rage).

2. RECOGNIZE POTENTIAL SOURCES OF FRUSTRATION IN YOUR LIFE

Whenever someone’s limits differ from our own, a potential for frustration arises. To help illustrate this, take a moment to write down your answers to the following questions:

A) What speed (relative to the speed limit) do you consider to be too slow when driving on a highway, and what speed do you consider to be too fast?
B) What is too hot to be comfortable room temperature and what room temperature would you consider being too cold?

Now answer these: At what speed do you drive on the highway, and what temperature do you prefer in your home?

I would bet my lunch (and I love food!) that your answers to the second set of questions fall in between your limit-setting answers for the first set. Personally, I drive 5-7 miles per hour over the speed limit. Anyone who drives the speed limit or below is just too slow for me, and anyone who drives 10 or more miles per hour over the speed limit I think is driving too recklessly and is just asking to be pulled over! While I find this to be a perfectly reasonable and logical response, I know not everyone agrees with me. How? I’m reminded every day when I must pass a slug or I get passed by a racecar driver. Their reasoning may be exactly the same as mine, but their limits are different.

Any two people are bound to have different preferences on almost any topic. How we respond to those differences is what determines how we feel about them, which brings me to the last step.

3. UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EVALUATION AND JUDGMENT

When we evaluate something, we measure it against some standard. We evaluate students when they take tests in school. Athletes are evaluated with a myriad of statistics regarding their performance. A judgment, however, is the result of taking those evaluations and making some decision about it. To say that one is better than the other.

When a student is deciding on which college to attend, he or she may evaluate a number of different areas: distance from home, cost of tuition, size of the school, etc. A judgment is then required to decide which school is best. Making a judgment often involves stating an opinion as if it were a fact. When we then believe that statement to be true (and why wouldn’t we? We came up with it!), we become frustrated when others differ from ourselves.

Not only do we state opinions as facts when we make judgments, but we create global statements based on specific pieces of information. It is the difference between evaluating that another car is traveling more quickly or slowly than you are and making the judgment that the driver of the other car is an inconsiderate jerk.

It is infinitely easier to prevent problems than to fix them once they exist. We can avoid many frustrating situations if we recognize our differences and avoid placing judgment on them. Recognize that someone feels more comfortable driving more slowly than you. Recognize that someone is willing to spend more or less money than you. Recognize that other individuals have priorities that may differ from yours. And that’s okay, as long as it is not something that impedes directly on the basic rights of others.

Diversity across every facet is what makes life tolerable and yet, ironically, breeds the most intolerance. As much as we sometimes wish other people were more like us, how awfully boring would that be? Who would you learn from? Who would you grow from? I wouldn’t want to find out. Embrace the differences, avoid judgment, and live a life free of frustration.

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