One of the biggest buzzwords in any fast-paced industry is the ability to ‘multitask’. We as employers place tremendous value on our people being able to can act swiftly and think quick on their feet, with little to no supervision.

The fallacy of 'multitasking' at work

The reality is for today’s work environment, any job applicant that’s applying/interviewing for a new position is well rehearsed in examples of being able to successfully execute many tasks at once, or even market his or herself as an ‘expert multitasker’. Candidates know it’s in their best interests to promote this skillset as it’s a huge demand from the modern employer.

We live in a P.A.I.D Reality

Rasmus Hougaard, a worldwide leader in organizational mindfulness training, coined the term ‘P.A.I.D Reality’ when it comes to the expectations of the modern employee. Employees are:

P – Pressured

The modern workplace demands employees to do more, with less time and resources.

A – Always-on

With email on our phones now, it’s often expected that employees are answering emails in the evening, keeping them connected to what’s going on at work at all times. This makes it nearly impossible to properly unplug and recharge for the next time we’re back in the office.

I – Information overloaded

The modern-day employee is connected through email, social media, text and chat groups on their phone, the information that is at our fingertips at all times is overwhelming, to say the least. There is only so much information that we can take in and retain, and this information overload plays a role in our lack of focus on a specific task.

D – Distractable

With mobile devices we are reachable at ALL times. Be it email, social media, a notification on our phone, or text message, we are constantly expected to react to different sources of information, so we are highly distractable. Hougaard calls this the attention deficit trait, and all of us have a little piece of this in today’s workplace.

Multitasking decreases mood and productivity

The irony in asking our employees to do more with less is it’s actually having the opposite effect, while diminishing their mood and overall happiness.

Productivity and employee happiness

Image credit: shrm.org

Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth are two primary researchers who looked at worker productivity across a sample of five thousand employees. They found that employees in the workplace are off task around 47% of the time. In their research, they set up metrics that measured where people were on and off task, finding that those without focus, or were trying to do too many things at once, were not as happy as those who were focused on doing one thing.

So the research illustrates that asking our people to take on numerous things at once adversely effects their productivity, and also worsens their mood.

How to improve attention and focus?

Perhaps the takeaway for business leaders and HR professionals is: how do we create a work environment that streamlines employee tasks and limits distractibility? One way to help regain focus on the task at hand is cultivating mindfulness in your workplace culture.

Mindfulness is a proven strategy to help bolster your awareness of the present moment in an open and curious way. It helps drive focused attention to the task at hand and boost awareness of what’s going on internally, so our thoughts and feelings, as well as externally to the environment around us.

Mindfulness at work

To date, there have been approximately 45 workplace mindfulness research studies that have linked mindfulness to improved relationships at work, an increased ability to collaborate with colleagues, and improvement in employees’ resilience in the face of adversity.

An example of mindfulness in your workplace could include doing a brief mindfulness exercise – like a micro breathing exercise you can do at your desk – or even a team mindfulness session ahead of a big meeting. Another example is becoming a single-tasker by keeping a time journal. In the time journal you keep track of what you achieve in a block of time, and how mindful you were doing that task.

There are many ways you can promote mindfulness in your workplace to help your organization. The important thing is to recognize that asking your people to ‘multitask’ is counterproductive, but instead to uncover ways to keep your staff single-task focused, which will keep them more productive and happier.

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