Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.
Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.
There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.
- Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
- E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
- Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
- Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
- Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
- Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.
Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.
Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.
An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.
To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.
If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.
Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.
If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.
It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.
This year promises to be one of the worst flu seasons in the past decade, and that means you may end up having a number of employees who are off sick at the same time.
If the flu takes hold among your employees, it can quickly spread and force even more people than usual to take time off to get better. While it’s impossible to stop the flu from spreading in society, as an employer you can prepare for absences and also take steps to keep the virus from taking hold in your workplace.
Here’s what you can do to reduce the flu’s penetration among your workforce.
Urge your staff to get a flu shot
It’s not too late for people to get vaccinated. After a flu shot, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies. The winter is the best time to get the shot for the most long-lasting effectiveness.
No flu vaccine is 100% effective, so a flu shot is not a guarantee that your worker will not get sick. For example, the vaccine for the 2016-2017 flu season was only 48% effective.
Urge employees to stay home if sick
The flu is often accompanied by a fever or nausea. Advise your workers to stay at home if they are feeling these symptoms because if they come to work with the early stages of influenza, they are most susceptible to spreading it. In fact, the flu virus remains contagious for seven days.
Tell them that while they feel they may be able to put in a full workday, not only is their work quality likely to suffer, but they can exacerbate their symptoms and put other staff at risk. Emphasize that their job won’t be at stake if they call in sick with the flu.
Have replacement personnel for key positions
We’re not talking about keeping someone on stand-by that doesn’t work at your organization. But for critical posts, it makes good business and risk management sense if you have more than one person trained to perform critical job functions at your facility.
If you don’t have someone trained for their job, you risk having an operational interruption, throwing your production schedule off track.
For workers with mild flu symptoms who are staying at home for the good of their co-workers, consider a telecommuting arrangement. If they are recuperating, they can hold video meetings on Skype and, if you have a VPN set up, they can access your database and their work, if they have the kind of job that can be done remotely.
Stock up on hand sanitizer
People who have just contracted the flu, but may not know it yet, can spread the virus through sneezes and touching surfaces that others may touch (think doorknobs). One of the keys to avoiding the flu is to keep your hands clean.
Place bottles of hand sanitzier or santizing wipes handy in various places at your facility. Make sure if you provide wipes that employees don’t need to open a lid to get at them (that’s just one more point of contact for the flu virus to populate and wait for the next victim).
Germ-killing wipes can also be used on non-porous surfaces, such as door handles and workbenches.
Order antiviral facemasks
Yes, we’ve all seen the photos of people in Asia wearing facemasks in public to either avoid spreading their germs or picking up a virus. But while most facemasks are only really good in not spreading the disease of the wearer, there are a few antiviral facemasks on the market that actually protect the wearer.
Curad’s Antiviral Facemask, for example, “inactivates 99.99% of tested strains of influenza viruses on five minutes contact with the surface of the facemask in laboratory (in-vitro) tests against … seasonal, pandemic, avian, swine, and equine influenza viruses.”
Humidify your air
The flu virus thrives in cold and dry environments and you can thwart it by installing a humidifier in your workplace. This is war, so any weapons you have to fight the spread of flu among your workers is worthwhile.
In June 2014, a truck driver from Georgia drove 800 miles from his home to his Delaware workplace. Without stopping to rest, he then got behind the wheel of a Wal-Mart tractor trailer and headed north.
He rear-ended a limousine bus on the New Jersey turnpike, starting a chain-reaction crash involving six vehicles and 21 people. Comedy writer James McNair died and television comedian Tracy Morgan suffered serious injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the driver, who had been awake for 28 hours, caused the crash because he was fatigued.
Employers are increasingly becoming aware of the problems that worker fatigue is causing.
Safety is the primary concern. McNair’s death and Morgan’s serious injuries are just one example of the potentially lethal consequences from working while overtired.
Statistics show that people who don’t get enough sleep get injured on the job more often than those who do.
One study showed that people who sleep eight to nine hours per night have an injury rate of 2.5 per 100 workers. The rate for those who sleep less than five hours per night is 7.9, triple the rate for their better-rested peers.
Sleepy workers also do a poorer job. A 2010 study found that fatigue-related productivity losses approach $2,000 per worker per year.
The National Safety Council (NSC) has reviewed existing research on occupational fatigue. The findings show just how pervasive the problem is:
- Almost 40% of workers sleep less than seven hours a night.
- Workers who suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea are more likely to be involved in safety incidents at work.
Lack of sleep is only one cause of fatigue among workers. Others include:
- Long work hours
- Heavy workloads
- Long commutes
- Environmental conditions, such as working outdoors in hot, cold, rainy or snowy weather
- Medical problems
- Stressful interactions with co-workers or customers
- Working multiple jobs
The NSC’s study found that 97% of workers reported at least one of these factors, and 80% reported more than one. The council also found that having two or more of these factors increased the risk of workplace injury.
Compounding the problem is modern workplace culture. American workplaces have long tended to celebrate those who push themselves hard. One popular author of business advice books has said that those who want to start successful businesses should be working 18-hour days with no time off.
Much of the responsibility for preventing fatigue lies with the workers themselves. Individuals can feel better at work by:
- Getting to bed earlier
- Avoiding alcohol before bedtime
- Limiting the use of electronic devices at night
- Taking breaks during the day
What employers can do
There are measures that employers can also take to ensure a better-rested workforce:
- Training employees on the effects of fatigue and how to manage sleep disorders
- Spreading workloads evenly
- Encouraging frequent breaks
- Designing workplaces to make jobs less tiring
- Keeping workplaces cool, and controlling humidity
- Scheduling shifts to minimize individuals’ fatigue
- Scheduling employees to work during daytime hours where possible
- Brightening workplaces
- Providing areas for employees to take quick naps
- Making sure workers get at least two consecutive days off
- Discouraging workers from extensive use of electronic devices at night
- Monitoring employees for signs of fatigue.
As employee health care costs and workers’ compensation premiums grow more burdensome, employers are paying increased attention to worker fatigue.
Rested employees are healthier, more alert, faster on their feet, and better able to make effective decisions. The reward for employers: Healthier bottom lines.
With year-end festivities about to begin, you should include safety into your holiday plans, be that if you are simply decorating the office or throwing a holiday/year-end party for your staff.
Since the holiday season or your party is only once a year, it’s easy to overlook safety even though you already incorporate it into the other aspects of your operations.
While you obviously want your staff to relax and have fun at your holiday party, you also want to make sure they get home safely and that nobody gets hurt or sick at your party. This takes planning and consideration.
Some of your safety priorities should be
- Liquor consumption,
- Safety on the premises of your party, and
- Food-borne illnesses.
Due to their infrequent nature, the liability risks of company-sponsored holiday events are often overlooked. To ensure the health and well-being of all who attend, it is important to be aware of any potential liability concerns that your company may face if the event doesn’t go exactly as planned.
While you want your staff to enjoy themselves, safety should still be your top priority during the holidays.
Keep in mind that if someone trips and injures themselves on an extension cord for your holiday lighting or other holiday decorations, it would be considered work-related and could possibly be subject to workers compensation. The same may hold true for injuries sustained at work parties as well. Consider the following:
- If you are holding a party at outside your office, you need to inspect the venue first to make sure it meets your safety standards. Some things to keep an eye out for include: exits emergency lighting, and flooring that might prevent slips and falls, particularly if there is a chance of bad weather.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if storms are looming on the date of your party. Consider the effects that weather may have on safe travel to and from the party. You may need to make special plans to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear if the event is outside of normal business hours.
- If you are in an unfamiliar area, do you need security? It’s something to consider.
- Keep an eye on party-goers to ensure that no one wanders off or goes to his or her car alone after dark.
- Prepare an emergency plan in case someone is injured or needs medical assistance. Know where the closest hospital is and if anyone knows how to use a defibrillator or can perform CPR.
- Do you have employees with disabilities who have special needs? Wheelchair bound employees should be able to get in and out of any venue you choose.
Other liability issues
Other issues to consider:
- Applying your workplace policies on behavior including those on violence, harassment, discrimination and the general code of conduct, even if you’ve chosen a venue other than your workplace. Prior to the event, let employees know the standards to which they will be held.
- Making sure your staff knows that the event is optional and it won’t reflect poorly on their performance evaluation, advancement potential or job security if they don’t’ attend. Emphasize this in all invitations and announcements should emphasize this point.
- Making sure that the party is not tied to any specific religious tradition and is referred to as a “holiday party.”
- Monitoring employee’s behavior to ensure that it conforms to company policies. Take prompt action if any activity or behavior exceeds acceptable bounds. For instance, if someone is getting too friendly, carrying a mistletoe and asking for kisses from others, you should pull the person assign and discreetly to manage the incident before it becomes a bigger issue.
- Limiting alcohol consumption, which can help avoid impaired decision making and lowering inhibitions which can lead to poor behaviors.
- Avoiding activities or items such as mistletoe, a game of Twister, or inappropriate music that could lead to physical contact, unwanted social pressure or inappropriate conversation.
- Taking complaints that stem from the party seriously. As you would with any other incident, document, investigate and take appropriate action.
Some companies have recognized the liability exposure that alcohol represents and have chosen to hold holiday events free of beer, wine, or liquor. If it will be served, there are some important considerations that can help to limit potential problems:
- Hold the event at an off-site location and hire professional bartenders who have their own insurance and are certified for alcohol service. Speak with the vendor to determine what protocols it uses to keep from serving minors and others who are visibly intoxicated.
- Make sure an array of choices of non-alcoholic beverages.
- Don’t have an open bar. Instead hand out drink tickets to control consumption.
- Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends.
- Keep lots of starchy and high-protein snacks for the partyers to munch on to slow absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- Give a supervisor or manager the authority to cut off anyone who is intoxicated.
- Provide alternative transportation that may include free cab rides.
A word about insurance
Make sure you that any vendors you use, carry insurance. Insist on seeing the certificates of insurance with sufficient coverage and liability limits for:
- Catering firms,
- Bartending firms,
- Facilities, or
- Entertainers should be required to produce
When reviewing rental contracts, be sure to note any hold harmless or indemnity agreements that could release the vendor from liability and instead hold your company responsible for losses from situations over which you have no control.
Also, talk to us to make sure that your own insurance policies cover any mishaps that may occur at your company event.