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Keep calm and carry on

One third of workers in the UK report being stressed and overwhelmed with distractions, according to a recent global poll carried out by Steelcase.

To make matters worse, in the run up to Christmas, many companies are dealing with important deadlines and all the seasonal distractions including Christmas parties and social events. Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland said, “During the Christmas period many of us may feel snowed under. Many companies have to get their annual reports and end of year accounts done and this requires intense concentration.

“Our poll has shown that many workers feel overwhelmed all year round – the Christmas period will undoubtedly exasperate this. However, workplaces can be designed to help workers mitigate distractions and better manage the ebb and flow of their attention span.”

The Steelcase poll interviewed 1,334 office workers in nine countries and shows that feeling overwhelmed  is cross-cultural and cross-generational. The distractions reported ranged from too many e-mails, loud conversations to problems with technology. Almost half of respondents admitted to feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work and a third reported difficulties concentrating. Bostjan added, “The average worker switches between tasks every three minutes, is interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes them 23 minutes to return to a level of deep concentration to deal with a complex task after being interrupted.

“The inability to focus negatively affects productivity, engagement, wellbeing and overall performance in organisations. We long to be more effective, but the harder we try, the more tired our brains become. Attention meltdowns are epidemic because workers do not understand how to manage their attention levels and too often, they don’t have access to the ideal spaces to support their tasks.”

The poll results show that in the UK office workers enjoy an office chat, but 24 percent list it as a distraction.

Key findings in the UK also include:

32 percent in the UK say they cannot concentrate at work

51 percent in the UK say they have no places in the office to relax and rejuvenate

33 percent in the UK say they can’t move around in the workplace and change postures

34 percent in the UK say they feel overwhelmed and stressed at work

The biggest distractions in the UK are talkative colleagues (19 percent), loud conversations (15 percent) and activity around the office (14 percent)

To concentrate, people in the UK say they need silence (16 percent), privacy and fresh air (11 percent)

Loud conversations and talkative colleagues are the biggest causes of distraction for both Gen X and Gen Y. Gen X also say “too many e-mails” (15 percent) are very distracting for them. Activity in and around workplaces also seem to distract people in offices around the world: 13 percent of Gen Y and 12 percent of Gen X are interrupted because of the things going on around them.

Email overload and the mental to-do-list are the main gender dividers when respondents were asked what distracted them the most. Women tend to have more on their mind whilst men have to deal with too many e-mails. Spanish men especially suffer from e-mail overload whilst men from the Benelux complain about activity around them. Talkative colleagues seem to be an issue for men in in the UK and the Benelux region, whilst German men complain about technology problems.

French women have a problem with talkative colleagues while women from the US and the Benelux region appear to be oblivious to the problem. In India, uncomfortable furniture really seems to be a problem in comparison to other countries. The poll results show that activity around the office is a key problem for women, as they have to look when something is happening around them. Spanish women have a lot on their mind in comparison to other countries, as do Spanish men. Globally slightly fewer men than women report difficulty in concentration, in particular men from the Benelux region, Spain and the UK appear to be able to concentrate better than their female counterparts. Only men in the Middle East have more trouble finding focus than women. 

Steelcase’s latest research, a meta-analysis of neuroscience and cognitive studies, shows that workplaces can be designed to help workers mitigate distractions and better manage the ebb and flow of their attention span. Due to high real-estate costs, especially in London, the United Kingdom has become a champion of offices with non-assigned workstations in open spaces. However, workplaces tend to be very crowded. “By changing our existing habits, and the spaces we use, we can gain more control of our brains and our lives. As we become more knowledgeable about how our brains work and more attuned to the ebb and flow of our attention, it becomes easier to recognise what our brains need when” added Bostjan.

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