By:Mark R Stephens

Most human resources studies show levels of disengagement in the workforce have never been higher.

While this can be down to numerous reasons, from a poor workplace culture and inadequate reward systems, to poor leadership, there is also the element of distraction that plays an increasingly large part in this trend.

You don't have to look any further than our phones - with an always-on source of information, communication, and entertainment at our fingertips - to suggest why distraction is almost ever-present in modern workplaces.

One study by Steelcase UK, which looked at worker behaviour, found that workers are, on average, distracted every three minutes. Perhaps even more significantly, it takes 23 minutes to return to the task after an interruption.

If we transpose these statistics over a whole working day, we could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much gets done due to these distractions. Productivity, wellbeing, and performance are all affected.

Managing employee attention spans and engagement levels is therefore critical to an organisation's competitiveness.

Neuroscience suggests that the brain uses 20 per cent of the body's energy, but has finite energy capacity. So expecting high performance for eight hours of focused attention per day is unrealistic; instead, attention will ebb and flow throughout the day and workplaces need to cater for these changes.

So how can we start to encourage greater focus and attention spans in the face of all these workplace distractions?

1. Mindfulness training
Training the mind is beneficial to increasing focus and can help us avoid the mistake of trying to multi-task. Being able to concentrate wholly on one thing is an important skill that can be learnt - and focusing on the breath (as in mindfulness training) has been shown to have many health benefits. As we become more skilled at mindfulness, we are better able to block out unwanted distractions, and prevent the constant switching of attention that can sap valuable neural energy.

Introducing retreats in workplaces can help with this. After all, understanding our own minds is key to having better control over them, and the more skilled we become at it, the better able we will be to exert control wherever we are (at work or at home).

2. Brain 'time-outs'
We also need to understand that distractions are an important part of focus! After periods of deep focus, the brain needs time-outs to regenerate and re-energise itself. A wandering mind can be a creative mind, so we must recognise that, depending on the nature of the work at hand, distractions may be welcome. Regular interactions with colleagues can assist with this on several fronts.

3. Movement
Motion helps to engage the brain, so the more conducive the workplace is to movement the more productive we are likely to be. One study demonstrated that those who worked from a treadmill desk were over a third more likely to answer a comprehension question correctly that those sitting in a chair.

Understanding more about how the brain works helps us set more realistic expectations. We need to understand not only the strengths and potential of the mind, but the weaknesses too, so that performance goals are achievable and workplaces are geared towards reaching these goals.

About the Aurthor:
The NeuroPower Group is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership. Find out more at our website: