Tech distractions for workers add up

The survey of 515 white-collar workers by software company and polling researchers uSamp depicts a workplace culture trying to balance work, manners and family demands, says William Powers, author of the 2010 book Hamlet’s BlackBerry.

The familiar picture of managers checking e-mails in meetings is only part of a picture where workers report they leave their devices on during church, movies or even sex, he says. “This technology is supposed to bring us together, but it makes us rude,” Powers says. “It’s a wake-up call to be smarter about the devices we’re on.”

The study concluded:

•More than half of U.S. workers waste an hour or more a day on interruptions: 60% come from electronic devices and e-mails, while the other 40% come from traditional sources, such as phone calls or chats with colleagues.

•45% of workers say they can’t go more than 15 minutes, on average, without an interruption. The average worker wastes 2.5 hours a week looking for documents missing in poorly organized electronic files.

•Only 68% of people always turn their phones off at the movies. Almost two-thirds will tune out of meetings to read e-mails, tweet or take mobile phone calls. Half leave devices on at least sometimes when they go to bed.

“The issue isn’t whether you’re working, it’s whether you lose your focus when something pops up on your screen,” says David Lavenda, a vice president at, based in Milpitas, Calif. Distractions cost businesses $10,790 a year per worker, the study finds.

Those conclusions are similar to other studies, Powers says. None has conclusively said whether businesses lose more from staffers distracted at work than they gain when people use devices to work after normal business hours, he says.

Companies such as Intel have experimented with tactics to persuade workers to use technology less and keep themselves fresh, Powers says. But tricks such as no-e-mail Fridays haven’t helped, he says.

“We really have managers captured 24/7,” says Mike Brezner, uSamp senior vice president. “We’re all tethered — wirelessly tethered.”