Most Distracted, Least Productive Workers: Middle-Aged Women?

least productive most distracted workers middle age women

A person's 30s and 40s are usually the prime career-making years, as workers become settled in their chosen industry, and climb up its ladder (the average age of incoming CEOs at S&P 500 companies was 52.9 in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal). But it's this age group that has the most trouble staying focused at work, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brigham Young University's Health Enhancement Research Organization and the Center for Health Research at the Healthways company asked 19,803 employees: "During the past four weeks (28 days), how often have you been at work but had trouble concentrating or doing your best because of..." followed by a list of 12 possible factors.

Employees between the ages of 30 and 49 were the most likely to report feeling unfocused on the job, largely because they had "too much to do and not enough time to do it," but also due to personal problems, financial stress, technology issues and lack of resources. Workers over 60 claimed to have the least trouble performing their best.

The report dubs this plague of distraction "presenteeism," and estimates that the cost of the related productivity loss is two to three times greater than the cost of employees not being there at all.

The survey had a few other interesting findings:
  • Women were distracted more often than men.
  • Married workers were less distracted than single ones, and way less distracted than their separated, divorced or widowed co-workers.
  • Employees with a high school degree or some college had more trouble concentrating than those with more or less education than them.
  • Hard laborers or those who work outdoors, like construction workers and farmers, had the least trouble focusing.
  • Those who work in the service sector were the most distracted.
  • Smokers had issues concentrating more than nonsmokers.
  • Those who ate badly yesterday reported far more trouble concentrating than those who ate healthily.

The report suggests that women are more distracted because of the pressure to work while pregnant, the disproportionate burden of child care and aging parents, and the higher likelihood of working part-time without sick days.

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And the higher rate of distraction among those with a high school degree or some college could be because they are more likely to have clerical positions, which involve less direct engagement and more sitting down, according to the report.

The researchers admit that their conclusions are limited, because they only surveyed employees at three companies, all of which were in the insurance and health care sector. Their survey pool also tipped in the direction of the ladies (62 percent).

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The report also emphasizes over and over the importance of a good diet and exercise to employee focus, and the need for employers to do more about it, which should give readers pause, since the study was partly funded by a private company, Healthways, in the employee wellness business.

But it's true that companies often obsessively tally the cost of employee absences, and take a stingy approach to sick days and vacation time, while rarely tracking the hours that employees are in the office, but on vacation in their heads.

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I think the women could be distracted by all of the things that they need to get done after work. For example, shopping, cooking, laundry, and taking care of their home, children, and husbands. At least that was all I thought about when I used to work outside the home. It was just too much to do.

August 12 2012 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yep, another scientific study supporting "equal pay for equal work" laws. If only the "equal work" was correct!

August 12 2012 at 10:04 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

When Women Are Least Productive? that was the headline I read, my answer was, When they are awake

August 12 2012 at 9:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

30's is now middle age? If you smoke you are less focused???? Figures BYU would come out with such a BS study!

August 12 2012 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

last time i checked thirties weren't middle age.

August 12 2012 at 8:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The only distraction I experienced while in that age group was the constant interruption of men with a dire need to waste time. It was enough to drive me crazy.

August 12 2012 at 8:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

They are all wrong, its when you have a female boss who is out to get you fired so she can try to make herself look important. That'll screw up your day and production rate for sure.

August 12 2012 at 7:31 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kay's comment

amen to that! i would rather work with or for men any day. women are conniving backstabbing and gossipy. and when you have a female boss they are always paranoid that you are oging to take their job. as a woman i have never had a problem when i have had a male boss.

August 12 2012 at 8:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Marguerite's comment

I have had same issue when working with women but in my case its been with those aged 44 upwards. They moan, also bossy, finnicky, fuss over trivial work stuff, paranoid over me, hold grudges, work obssessed and very territorial. And the more sad fact is that they're only receptionists or clerks who think they the joint. I've had to leave my job because it got too stressful to work with them. Prefer men any day. I'm a friendly, free spirited, easygoing female aged 41 and know what I'm talkin about.

October 09 2013 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Why am I not surprised that Brigham Young University was responsible for coming up with these ridiculously spun findings aimed at shuffling women back into the kitchen. It's 2012, BYU... not 1952.

August 12 2012 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

REALLY, I am the only supporter in my family and have been since my kids were babys- and I worked like the rest and for less pay then then the men doing the same work. The one thing they forget not everyone goes on assistance to cover the shortage of pay to pay the bills- And yes my bills like theirs are 100% due every month-theres no discount for less income then the theirs and the stress level is higher with no back up from anyone else (women refer to it as SERIOUS MULTI-TASKING). You would think that these people would wake up and smell the coffee. There are a lot of women in high places, take that attitude to them, you most likely walk away with a new attitude and appreciation for someone else.

August 11 2012 at 11:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Ah good ole Brigham Young and Brothers... still striving to keep women at home cooking-n-cleaning

August 11 2012 at 2:25 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to WatergirlHawaii's comment
Chuck Simmers

And what great achievement are you working on in Hawaii? Changing your diet from poi to rice? Being nicer to tourists? Switching to Miracle grow fertilizer for the pakalolo in the back yard? We all know 70% of locals live off the government. You?, Your family? Just clean the fish and trade those food stamps in for beer sista...

August 12 2012 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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