Focusing on your employees’ focus

I think I’ve got spring fever. And sports fever. And vacation-coming-up fever.

Are those enough distractions for you? Are you distracted by worries that your employees aren’t staying on track?

On the long list of things employers worry about – from finding the right employees to finding the right customers, making a profit, legal compliance, staying ahead of the competition, etc. – keeping employees productive day in and day out is right up there. It is one of the top fears that prevents employers from letting staff work from home, for example.

Most management articles offer advice on internal distractions – how to help staff manage email, instant messaging and other interruptive technology, or how to help them minimize people distractions in the cubicle/open plan office environment. Or they deal with keeping employees safety-focused on the road or around machinery.

But not many talk about solutions for the times when life – the external distractions – come into the workplace. If you have ever had an employee with a new baby, undergoing a divorce or struggling with other personal issues, you know what I mean.

And just how did March Madness go in your office this year?

The key to all this is to keep perspective. You can’t monitor your employees every minute, but you can measure output. You don’t want to clamp down on watercooler talk and other activities that build camaraderie in the workplace, but you can set goals and make people accountable for results.

As for shutting down the Internet? It’s better to develop clear policies on computer use, communicate them clearly and then apply them across the board. (No Amazon shopping or sports sites for you during regular work time if you’re going to punish others for doing the same thing!)

It also helps to recognize that truly engaged employees don’t put work behind them when they walk out the door at the end of the day and then pick it up again at their desks the next morning. It’s an integral part of their lives.

It’s only when work becomes the distraction from everything else that you’ve got a problem employee. And I bet you can spot that one a mile away: no output, lots of excuses.

So, wasn’t it great that the weather got more spring-like last week? Go, Pens! And how ’bout the Bucs – not in last place yet!

The week ahead

Serious work goes on at all times in the Business Journal newsroom. I hope you didn’t miss our special Small Business Week issue May 9 – the third annual, in which we profiled nine midstate business with powerful stories to tell about growth. Here’s a sample.

Coming up this week, reporter Joe Deinlein is writing about a new industry getting off the ground in the midstate that is already gaining a national reputation for quality.

Jason Scott has been talking to a couple of movers and shakers in private real estate investment, and John Hilton will take us behind the scenes of the massive state bridge repair bidding process, where billions are at stake and few local companies have a shot.

The Inside Business focus is on growth in Lancaster and Lebanon counties, with lists on excavating companies and landscape architecture and land development.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

The state Game Commission has been delighting viewers for a couple of years now with the webcam on the Rachel Carson State Office Building that spies on a pair of breeding peregrine falcons. In western Pennsylvania this year, the draw has been the Hays eagle cam – two bald eagles are raising three hatchlings this year – and so there’s another distraction.

I keep my check-ins down to lunchtime and the end of the day, but it’s a struggle. The last time I peeked, more than 4,000 people were doing likewise. Viewers are getting so caught up in the real-time drama that wildlife experts are finding it necessary to calm the public’s fears about the birds’ welfare.

Hope Stephan

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