I set off a firestorm earlier this week when I posted on social media that office workers are interrupted on average every 3 minutes.
Yes. Every 3 minutes.
What I didn’t expect to hear is that the biggest transgressor, would be the boss.
When I offered some tips on cutting down on the interruptions, one woman wrote, “Easier said than done, when [we] are interrupted by management who want what they want when they want it. If interruptions are every two minutes, and last 1 minute a piece, half of the office worker’s day is wasted.”
Actually, it can be more like 6 hours a day, not 4, according to some efficiency experts. Not only do workplace interruptions stop the normal flow of business, but they add more time – about 23 minutes – to getting the original tasks done as employees try to pick up where they left off. This amounts to a total loss of about $1 trillion a year to the U.S. economy.
How much of that are managers personally responsible for?
All of it.
The responsibility to see to it that employees have a workplace that is conducive to…well…work is at the hands of managers. Here are 6 ways managers can cut down the waste and help employees better manage their time:
Give people the tools they need. In the case of new employees, make sure they have clear job expectations and are trained to do the job you want them to do. Trying to guess what makes you happy is a huge time-waster. And give them the uninterrupted time in which to do their assignments.
Create performance plans. If you’ve got employees who need to be checked on all the time, then you need to cowboy-up and create performance plans for them that include specific goals and timelines by which they need to be accomplished. Be clear that failure to perform will result in the loss of their jobs.
Ask for feedback. Instead of badgering your employees every few minutes – or allowing that to happen – ask them what ideas they have for a better system. You might be surprised. One woman suggested placing the files “in order of priority before putting them on our desk, and put the date and time the work is due on top of each file.“ That works.
These are tough conversations, I get that, but they are better for company culture and employee morale than watching employees like a hawk. And you can learn how to have those conversations, if you haven’t already been trained. Culling the deadwood is vital if you want to retain (or improve) the level of respect your employees have for you. Because I can assure you that your employees know exactly who the slackers are and what they’re getting away with.
It also helps to ask how long they think a task will take to complete. They are your front line – they have a better handle on such nitty-gritty details than you do. And if you know they are gold-bricking or taking too much time to do an assignment – based on your own, first-hand knowledge rather than what you assume – then refer to “Grow a pair.”
Listen. “There are still bosses who do not tolerate an employee speaking up, unfortunately, even if it is done professionally and politely,” said one of my connections. “Their egos get in the way and they are very set in their ways. It’s their way or the highway. You can lose your job over it complete with a negative comment in your company file. “
This is not acceptable. If you cannot be open to your employees’ concerns without them fearing for their jobs, ask yourself why. Maybe you yourself are in the wrong job or need more training to bolster your own level of self-confidence.
Create “inside time” agreements. Once you know how long certain tasks will take, create an “inside time” agreement with your staff. Joan has a major report to finish by 5 p.m. today and it will take 2 hours to complete. Give her the two hours she needs. Let her close the door, if she has one, turn off the phone, not answer emails and so on. If she doesn’t have a door, have her put up a sign that says, “Do not interrupt between the hours of 1-3 p.m.” Let everyone know she has your permission to be unavailable during that time. And then leave her alone yourself.
Establish regular meeting times. You’re the manager – you need to know how everything is going in your department or your company. Meetings are frequently reviled, but properly run, they can provide you with all the information you need while still allowing your staff to do their jobs without you hovering over their shoulders. The more people involved in the meeting, the more important it is to have an agenda with a strict start and end time. One-on-one meetings can be less formal, but still have a time limit and the topics you want to discuss. No going off the reservation. Everyone has stuff that needs to be done, including you.
A version of this story originally appeared on www.key-dynamics.com.