Workplace Distractions Hurt Your Employees and Your Business

Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.

Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.

There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.

 

  1. Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
  2. E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
  3. Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
  4. Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
  5. Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
  6. Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.

 

The fallout

Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.

Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.

An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.

To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.

If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.

Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.

If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.

It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Reduce Accidents among Your Driving Employees

We’ve often discussed the scourge of distracted driving in America, brought on in large part due to the use of smartphones and leading to a significant spike in vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths. That in turn has led to a jump in both commercial and personal auto insurance pricing.

The risk for businesses is even greater as a careless driving employee can result in a substantial liability claim, particularly if a third party is injured. If one of your drivers is found to have been engaged in distracted driving, any judgment or settlement for a personal injury could easily cost more than $1 million.

While you can hold meetings about the dangers of distracted driving and what your driving employees can do to reduce the chances of crashing, in the end it comes down to trusting that they will do the right thing.

So what can you do? We suggest a holistic approach to the issue.

1.   Understand distracted driving

Just how bad is the distracted driving problem? In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads.

But smartphones are not the only source of distraction. Road safety experts say there are three types of distraction for drivers:

  • Manual – This can include looking around for a lost object in the car, reaching under the seat or behind to the back seat.
  • Cognitive – This can include a driver who is lost in thought and not paying full attention to driving.
  • Visual – Anything that makes a driver takes their eyes off the road, like looking at the GPS or searching for a song on an iPod.

 

Some distractions actually are a combination of two or all the above, like texting or posting stuff on Facebook.

All of your training for your driving employees must emphasize the need to address all types of distracted driving, and should include scenarios to help them make proper decisions when behind the wheel.

2.  Hire good drivers

When hiring personnel who drive, consider what their primary responsibility is. For example, if you own a plumbing operation, your drivers are not necessarily going to be professional drivers, since their primary duty is fixing plumbing issues.

But if you are hiring any workers who will be driving as part of their job, even if it’s not their primary responsibility, you should still make sure they are good drivers by checking their driving records.

Hiring safe drivers is one of the best ways for you to ensure you are putting safe drivers behind the wheel. After all, past driving behavior is the best indication of future performance.

If you think any prospect will be driving as part of their job, you should pull their DMV records. Look for anything serious like DUIs or frequent citations for moving violations. You should decide what your level of tolerance is for driving histories.

In addition, check their resumes to see whether they were driving as part of any of their prior jobs, and if they have experience driving the same type of vehicle they would be driving for you.

Also ask about any medications the applicant may be taking, as some can affect their driving.

Finally, consider requiring candidates that would be driving to take a road test as part of the recruitment process.

3.  Coach current employees to be safe drivers

You should hold regular training for all of your current employees that may drive as part of their job, even if they are only running to the office supply store or on an occasional errand.

You should attack this in a three-pronged approach:

  • Pull their DMV driving records annually.
  • Subject them to road tests where they are graded on their safe driving.
  • Hold an annual meeting to go over safe driving policies; reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and stress the need to always focus on the task at hand.

 

You should also have safe driving policies in writing that are enforceable. Your policies should list all the behaviors your workers are prohibited from engaging in while driving.

Some rules you can include:

  • Never answer the phone while driving, even if you have a hands-free device.
  • Bar programming a GPS while on the move and require that they pull over when safe to do so.
  • Never hold your smartphone in your hand while driving.

 

Your policy should also specify the consequences and any disciplinary action for breaking the rules.

You should maintain records of these policies. This is of utmost importance if one of your employees is in an accident and accused of negligence. Your policy and proof of training can protect your organization.

4.  Take advantage of technology

Many companies are installing GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so they can receive real-time information about a vehicle’s location and rate of speed. This gives you valuable insight into any dangerous habits your drivers may be engaging in.

You can also install technologies that will block cell phone signals while the vehicle is moving.

5.  Have procedures for dealing with accidents

Despite your best efforts, your driving employees may still have accidents. They should be trained in the procedures they should follow after an accident.

Some companies include accident kits in their vehicles. They are typically a small bag or box that’s kept in the glove compartment.

The kit should explain what they should do, including:

  • Taking photos from all angles after an accident.
  • Completing a form on which to record details of the accident, including where it took place, how it occurred, the damage to third parties, the other driver’s insurance information, road conditions, and more. Require your drivers to take down all the details at the scene of the accident.
  • Calling the police in the event of an accident.

Employees should not discuss who was at fault with the police, but they can work with them to document the accident. Plus, a police officer can provide a calm, outside perspective on a stressful situation.

 

 

Businesses Pay Record Amounts for Lawsuits over Employee Treatment

Employers are paying out more for legal settlements and judgments for cases brought by employees over how they are being treated.

According to the employment law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, settlements for the 10 biggest class-action suits brought by employees grew an astounding 55% to $2.72 billion in 2017 from $1.75 billion the year prior.

The trend in employee class actions reflects a similar trend of individual actions, which should be a wake-up call for employers to review their human resources policies and practices.

These cases include claims for:

  • Wage-and-hour violations (such as insufficient pay, failure to pay overtime, etc.)
  • Employee bias (such as discrimination against protected classes)
  • Underfunded pension plans
  • Harassment
  • Independent contractor vs. employee disagreements

It’s unlikely that the aggregate record settlement amount in 2017 – the highest Seyfarth Shaw has recorded since it started keeping track in 2003 – may constitute a trend as many of the actions were government enforcement lawsuits against employers brought by the Obama administration. The business-friendly Trump administration delivers on promises of less government intervention and reduced federal enforcement efforts.

But the law firm predicted that 2018 could be still be significant in light of the #MeToo movement after numerous allegations of sexual harassment have sunk the careers of high-profile businessmen, actors and politicians. Lawyers expect more rank-and-file workers, emboldened by the news reports, to file lawsuits against their employers alleging sexual harassment by superiors.

Also, in a bit of pushback against the Trump administration’s policies, a number of state attorneys general have been taking a more aggressive stance on workplace issues and they could pick up part of the slack.

The fallout

The stakes are high for employers. Employee-initiated lawsuits can drag on for years and can be expensive even if the employer wins the case.

Legal fees can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and sympathetic juries can punish a company with large awards. Combined, legal fees and awards or settlements can sink a small business by crimping its cash flow and causing irreparable damage.

As an employer, you should review your policies on harassment and discrimination, your pay practices and how you are classifying employees and independent contractors.

You should consider:

  • Whether you have a strong anti-harassment and discrimination policy in place, and if you have a solid reporting mechanism for workers who feel they have been harassed or discriminated against. The process should be confidential and you should take all complaints seriously and investigate them.  Whatever you do, don’t retaliate against an employee who has filed a complaint, as that could lead to a retaliation lawsuit being filed against your business.
  • Reviewing your pay policies to make sure that you are accurately accounting for overtime pay, holiday pay and that you are not paying one class of worker more than another for the same work if they have similar experience and position.
  • Reviewing how you are classifying independent contractors to make sure you are not running afoul of the law. The IRS is still taking a serious view of misclassification, and you also run the risk of being sued by someone who feels they should be classified and paid as an employee if you are classifying them as an independent contractor.
  • Taking out an employment practices liability insurance policy. These policies cover legal fees associated with the above actions, investigation costs, and judgments and settlements. An EPLI policy could be your company’s lifeline for protecting your assets should your firm be sued.

How Employers Can Fight the High Cost of Diabetes

Diabetes is a devastating illness – and not just for those with the disease. Employers are also shouldering massive and increasing direct and indirect costs due to diabetes.

Diabetes afflicts more than 11% of the adult population, including about 6.3% of full-time workers and 9.1% of part-time workers.

Adults with diabetes incur more than $8,480 in direct treatment costs, on average. Those who are insured spend even more.

A 2016 report from the Health Care Cost Institute estimated that insured workers with diabetes spend more than $16,000 on health care costs per year. Those without diabetes, on average, generate about $4,396 in medical costs per annum.

 

Indirect costs

Employers aren’t just paying more in direct health care costs and insurance premiums. They also pay via lost productivity.

On average, those with diabetes miss an extra week of work – 5.5 days – compared to other workers, according to Gallup estimates. All told, that adds up to 45 million missed workdays, and productivity costs to U.S. employers of $4 billion.

And for employers, these costs may represent just the tip of the iceberg. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 114 million adults in the U.S. – a third of the workforce – have undiagnosed diabetes or prediabetes.

 

What can employers do?

The CDC recommends that employers design wellness programs that specifically target improvements in the following areas:

  • Exercise and activity levels
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Blood cholesterol
  • High blood glucose
  • Weight/obesity

There also are a number of measures employers can take to help mitigate some of the costs to the organization.

  • Offer ongoing counseling with professional dieticians. Employees that regularly meet with dieticians who can help them set small, manageable goals for themselves, make significant and measureable health improvements, according to a 2016 study. The research found that they lost 5.5% of their body weight and reduced blood glucose levels.
  • Start a walking club. The American Diabetes Association’s Stop Diabetes @ Work program recommends that employers encourage company walking clubs to attend diabetes walk-a-thons like Step Out: Walk to Cure Diabetes, or host a Community Walk to Cure Diabetes.
    You can find resources, including posters, newsletter articles, training plans and walking guides, at diabetes.org.
  • Encourage self-assessment and screening. According to the CDC, 30% of people with diabetes aren’t even aware of it. Workplace screenings are easy and effective. Many employers provide incentives for workers to participate via reduced insurance copays, or even cash payments.

All screenings should be confidential and employers should not to penalize employees who have diabetes, as this could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • Encourage smokers to quit. Diabetics who smoke have far higher medical costs on average than non-smoking diabetics or non-diabetic smokers. Discouraging tobacco use can pay off in the long run.

With so much at stake, a robust workplace program to fight diabetes can generate a significant return on investment.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes in just one prediabetic employee can generate more than $50,000 in direct and indirect cost savings over five years.