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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