So you have an employee who’s easily distracted. He barely begins a project when he gets sidetracked by a coworker, a noise in the hall, an irrelevant email, a bug crawling on the wall. It’s not that he’s bored – he just has a difficult time staying focused. What do you do?
You could, as most managers do, begin a progressive discipline process – putting him on formal notice to shape up or ship out. The downside to this is that it could have a negative effect on his confidence, which will only exacerbate his difficulty in focusing. You certainly don’t want to demotivate him. Distracted employees, despite the compromised productivity, often have critical knowledge, skills and experience which are valuable assets to your team.
Here are three things you can try:
1. Set staged deadlines
Break the project down into smaller, bite-sized stages, with deadlines for each. Follow up with the employee at each stage. This allows him to feel a sense of accomplishment throughout the project, and is more appropriate for his challenged attention span.
2. Point out his behavior
Sometimes the distracted employee is unaware of how much time he is spending on his distractions. In a private conversation, let him know what you have observed. Be specific. Let him know exactly how much time you watched him talking to a coworker about his appendectomy, then remind him of how important it is to meet the deadlines.
3. Rethink his position
Is this employee in the right position? Maybe his skills and knowledge can be put to better use in a different capacity – one which will better engage him.