July 25, 2021
Performance Management 13 October 2020
How to Refocus Workers and Improve Productivity
Kelsy Ketchum

It’s natural for employees to get distracted sometimes. No one’s a robot who can stay focused all day, every day. But when distractions are becoming more common than actual time spent on work, and productivity is suffering, you need to take action. 

Without finding a way to refocus workers, employees end up distracted and do not finish tasks. If your employees fail to complete their tasks, the business will suffer. On the other hand, trying to forcefully increase productivity can actually have a negative influence on the output. It is frustrating for managers to micro-manage and can lead to unmotivated and disengaged employees. 

Although it can be hard to know how to refocus your employees without sacrificing employee engagement or closely monitoring how workers use their time, it’s doable. There are many simple approaches to encourage productivity among your employees, it's all about finding the right fit for you.

Here are some of the steps you need to take:

Manage Time-Wasters

First of all, you need to manage time-wasting activities. Four strategies to help with this are:

1. Set clear expectations. Let employees know the future goals of the company as a whole and of their department or area specifically. Talk with everyone and explain how their jobs and tasks fit into these goals, and how their professional goals align the business’s objectives. You can monitor workers’ goals with an HR management system (HRMS) solution, which allows you to document and track each employee’s progress as managers talk to them. You’ll also want to base your feedback on these goals, so workers understand what’s expected of them. Avoid spending time talking about past issues (unless they’re still a problem) and focus on the present and plans for the future. 

2. Manage Deadlines

Once your goals are set and employees know about them, it's important to set deadlines and create a timeline for completion. Matt Dunne – Hiring Manager at Healing Holidays gives this excellent advice:

Setting achievable but finite deadlines is an excellent method of improving the productivity of your team. Deadlines should be seen as goals for your employees to achieve; a project without a cut-off date is often an exercise in futility as there is no real motivation or pressure behind it.

Assess your workload, prioritize, and base your deadlines around these priorities. Doing this means that your employees should, generally, be able to complete their work at a steady and easy-going pace, but they will still be motivated to complete the work to a high standard and in time for the deadline.

It's important that the deadlines set are available to view by the whole team. You can even try letting employees set their own deadlines as long as they fall within the project scope. Matt goes on to say that this is also great for future planning, as you can be planning in the next lot of work ready for when your current upcoming deadlines have been met. Promising your clients a set date motivates you and the team to honor that promise, showing you to be reliable and professional. 

3. Figure out in advance when employees are more likely to waste time. Is there a big event coming up, like March Madness or the Olympics? Instead of banning workers from watching games in the office or chatting about them, bring in some televisions and allow employees to watch during breaks or lunch. 

Forbidding workers from getting distracted isn’t the goal. That only makes people more uncomfortable and less likely to stay engaged. Rather, you want to channel those distractions into something else, possibly by turning them into a chance for people to socialize and bond. Stronger connections with co-workers lead to more engaged employees and a more positive workplace

4. Reward workers who maintain productivity. If someone has stayed productive or improved their productivity, avoid waiting until the end of the year to recognize that effort. Although that’s the usual time for performance reviews and bonus discussions, take the opportunity to recognize workers more frequently and while they’re performing well. 

Workers will associate the rewards with the uptick in productivity and can encourage other employees to step up their games as well. 

Once you’ve eliminated some distractions and shifted others to work in a way that benefits you, consider taking additional steps to improve productivity. 

Remember: While improving productivity often happens at the individual level, it also helps to make systemwide changes and offer encouragement. 

Provide the Right Tools

Make sure your employees have the right tools and equipment to help them be as productive as possible. Andy Aranda, CEO at Breazy says,

In order to drive employee productivity, you need to provide employees with the necessary tools and resources. If your budget allows, you should always consider investing in tools that will benefit your employees. The right tools will ensure that your employees are able to complete projects and tasks as efficiently as possible.

Office equipment should be reliable and easy to use without a lot of training or time spent. Beyond the equipment, offering workers tools like time-tracking and collaboration apps can boost productivity significantly. Time-tracking allows workers to see exactly where all their time is going. It’s easy for people to fritter away time on social media or other non-work-related tasks, but seeing the cold, hard numbers on how much time they’re wasting can be a wake-up call. 

Collaboration apps, meanwhile, can promote teamwork. As mentioned before, bonding with co-workers strengthens employee engagement while also improving productivity – after all, two heads are better than one. 

Project management apps typically have features that allow people to work on a specific project and communicate in real-time. This can keep everyone on task. It can also provide another layer of accountability since no one wants their co-workers to see them as a slacker. You should also assign specific tasks to workers that line up with their career goals to keep them engaged.

Offer Development Opportunities

Employees who feel stagnant are more likely to look for entertainment elsewhere, causing them to become easily distracted, which negatively impacts productivity. 

Encouraging workers to look for professional development and training opportunities, and providing them with the means to take advantage of those opportunities, increases the likelihood that workers will stay engaged and productive. Henry Mcintosh of 2112 Marketing recommends the following,

Each team member should have a personal development plan, focused on professional and personal development. Employees value this as it shows you are investing in them and care about their progress. Have base and bonus key performance indicators linked to rewards (salary, bonus, prizes, and activities), make the KPIs visible, and check-in with employees regularly on progress.

These opportunities are important for both new hires who need to learn about the company and current employees who may be looking for a skills boost. In addition, workers who receive training can spread the knowledge to other employees at your organization, improving productivity for everyone. 

One other benefit? Employees with additional training can see a path forward in their careers, which can motivate them to stay with the company and keep growing in their development, increasing retention and providing a larger talent pool for senior positions within your business.

Break the Routine

Doing the same thing every day for weeks on end is exhausting and makes workers more likely to look for distractions. Be willing to shake routines up and let employees try out new tasks to challenge them.

Consider introducing new roles in different departments or switching up job duties a bit. Not only will workers appreciate the break, but it also helps them learn new skills and expand their abilities. 

Another way to break up routines is by allowing employees to work from home. Remote work is steadily increasing, and research has shown remote workers are often more productive and engaged. 

Giving employees the flexibility to mix up their routines as needed can provide a needed break from the monotony of everyday office life. 

Emphasize Self-Care

Chances are good that at least one of your employees has called in sick from stress – even if they didn’t admit that was the cause. Job stresses take a serious toll on workers and can hurt their productivity. 

Remind workers of the importance of physical and mental health, and listen to them if they bring up any concerns. But you want to offer more than just lip service.  

Show your employees you value their health by encouraging physical exercise at work (such as stretching), by sponsoring relaxing activities like a weekly or monthly happy hour after hours, or establishing well-being programs. Emphasize the importance of physical activity in their personal lives and the benefits of staying fit.

Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. People who are active in sports or exercise may find that custom orthotics help to increase endurance, strength, and performance abilities.

If someone asks to take a day off, avoid shaming them for it or turning it into a big deal. Trust your workers to know what they need, and help them feel comfortable asking for it.

Use Perks

You likely already offer a variety of great benefits, but you may want to think about providing more. Surveys reveal more employees want perks than a pay raise, and those perks can be a useful tool for increasing engagement and motivating employees. 

These perks don’t need to be pricey, either. They could be as simple as partially subsidizing gym memberships or offering discounts on movie and event tickets. 

Showing employees you care enough to give them access to non-traditional perks connects them to the workplace and can inspire them to do high-quality work. 


It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to cut down on worker distractions and improve productivity.

Taking the time to communicate with workers and see what they need goes a long way toward making them happier with their jobs, which makes them more willing to work hard. 

Focus on improving your organization for your employees, and they’ll pay you back with work that’s worthy of your investment. 

Kelsy Ketchum is an editor for Better Buys, helping companies find and select the right software solution. She also writes about medical coding, human resources, and safety compliance.