Procrastination in the workplace

How is workplace procrastination affecting your business?

Are procrastinating employees affecting your business? It's important to identify procrastination in the workplace against set productivity goals to ensure the ongoing success of the business. HR consultant Lyndsey McLaughlin weighs in on workplace procrastination and how to deal with it.

Workplace procrastination is more common than many employers realise. When workers procrastinate, they fail to deal with their important work tasks, and instead, spend time on non-work-related activities. This can include obvious types of procrastination, such as taking longer breaks than permitted, chatting to colleagues for long periods, or browsing the internet.

Some forms of procrastination can be less obvious, such as employees spending time on tasks that are easy and not as highly pressured. For example, an employee could be spending time creating a really nice-looking Excel spreadsheet, rather than phoning clients.

There have probably been occasions when you have walked past an employee’s desk and they’re online shopping or even playing games. As a business owner, this might make you feel a little agitated, especially if you are extremely busy. Although there should be some give and take in the workplace, the last thing you want is for employees to be spending an excessive amount of time procrastinating, as this can have serious impacts on your business.

The impacts of procrastination

The impact of procrastination

Procrastination can be lethal for a business, especially SMEs, who simply can’t afford to have employees wasting time. Time is money, and when people procrastinate, it causes deadlines to be missed. This can then affect payments, not to mention damage the reputation of the business.

It also causes individual and organisational goals to be missed, which can seriously affect the success of a business.

Consider the following scenario…

You have a regular client who gives you lots of work and you really want to keep them happy. They are quite stringent with deadlines, and you know they won’t react well to any being missed.

You assign one of their projects to a trusted employee, but it ends up being late as they’ve been having personal issues and the project is complicated, which has put them off doing it. The consequences are that you have an unhappy client, you won’t be paid when you expected for the project, and it will damage your client’s impression of you.

Does this sound familiar? It is not a case of blaming the employee, but instead ensuring they break the project down into manageable chunks, so they can complete it in plenty of time and without feeling overwhelmed.

With a staggering 80% of small businesses failing within the first 18 months, SMEs simply can’t afford to be complacent about procrastination in the workplace. It could be the nail in the coffin for your business if you don’t take steps to deal with it.

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The reasons for procrastination

There is no one set rule for why people procrastinate in the workplace. There are many reasons why this happens. Primarily, someone procrastinates because they don’t have enough work to do, or quite simply, they are bored with the work.

For others, they might not have adequate training and may not know what they’re supposed to be doing, and instead, will just waste the day away or they may have piles of work that they just can’t get through.

It could be down to their mental health, or there might be environmental distractions, such as a noisy workplace preventing them from concentrating. The only way to really get to the heart of why someone procrastinates is to ask them.

How to spot procrastination in the workplace

How to spot procrastination in the workplace

Although it is not a good idea to micromanage your staff, it is vital to have a good overview of what they’re doing and to manage productivity in your workplace.

Yes, you could go around the office every day looking at your employee’s screens, but this is neither manageable nor tangible. To manage productivity in the workplace, there need to be measures taken to monitor your employees – but not in a ‘big brother is watching you’ way! You can do this by setting goals.

Setting measurable goals

Firstly, understand the goals you have for your organisation for the long term, and then break these down into monthly or even weekly goals. Consider what you need to do to achieve these goals.

For instance, you may be running a coffee shop and your main objective is to make a profit of £20,000 per month. So, how do you break that down? You would need to understand what the average customer pays and how many customers you need to serve each day. Then, you need to understand what a realistic amount of time would be for your employees to spend with each customer to meet these goals.

Monitoring goals

If you have employees, in this situation, who are procrastinating, they may be talking to customers for a long period, chatting to their colleagues, taking longer than necessary to prepare the coffees, failing to try and upsell other products, or even browsing their phone in work time.

The consequences of this can be long queues, customers leaving, and damage to your employer brand. Therefore, setting goals and monitoring performance is so important, without being overly critical with your employees. If you don’t measure procrastination, you will never know how successful your business is until it’s too late.

Track employee performance, set up recurring progress meetings, and document goals with performance management software.

Dealing with procrastination

In an SME, you want your employees to be happy, productive, and motivated. These are vital for the success of your business. To take care of these, you need to treat your employees well and value them. A strong employer brand is vital from the very start of your business launch. Google is widely known as one of the best employers in the world, as they take care of their employees by offering flexibility, additional benefits, and really valuing what their employees do.

Benefits

Reducing procrastination with employee benefits

It is not always possible for an SME to offer lots of benefits, but you can start by offering incentives. For instance, setting targets for your employees and an additional bonus if they achieve their goals.

Learn more: Which benefits and perks do employees want most?

Ensure the workplace environment is comfortable and enjoyable for your employees and make sure they get adequate breaks. Paying them competitively is also important, as well as checking up on them to ensure they don’t have any issues they need support with.

Training and development

Train and develop employees to curb procrastination

You can also set goals for their development, so they know that they can progress if they work hard. Employees rarely procrastinate because they are lazy, it is usually down to much simpler and easily solvable reasons. Of course, this could be the case and you may need to consider dismissal if this is going to be an ongoing issue.

Procrastination is a real issue for many businesses, but if you set goals, monitor progress, and check in on your employees, you can eradicate it and ensure it does not affect the success of your business.

Read more from our blog

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Using employee skills management to drive productivity

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Written by Lyndsey McLaughlin

Lyndsey McLaughlin is a CIPD qualified HR consultant and recruitment professional who specialises in HR advice and writing about a range of business and staff management topics for employers and managers.

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