Work life

New report suggests workers’ attention spans are getting shorter

Are the incessant notifications from Slack and other messaging apps to blame?
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· 3 min read

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Does the ping ping ping ping ping of incessant work notifications make you long for the days before AIM existed? According to a new survey from Asana, you’re likely not alone; in April, the work management platform released its Anatomy of Work Global Index examining the state of hybrid work and the ways in which it’s impacting employee well-being.

Asana partnered with GlobalWebIndex (GWI) in the fall of 2021 to survey more than 10,500 knowledge workers in seven countries around the world, including the US, asking about attention spans, notifications, structured days and when they turn off from work. The results indicate the workforce feels isolated, unstructured, and more distracted than they were a year ago.

Distracted. Among the key findings, the report indicated that 33% of respondents feel they have shorter attention spans with their work, and on any given day, they’re distracted by an average of nine apps and constant notifications.

Dr. Bill Hudenko, research assistant professor in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, explained to HR Brew that work output is impacted by living in the attention economy, in which a variety of tech apps, related and unrelated to work, compete for an employee’s attention. While apps are designed to keep users engaged, “the negative impact of that is that it very much does fracture and divide our attention when we’re trying to focus on other tasks,” Hudenko said.

Email, Slack, and calendar notifications don’t help with focus, explained Hudenko. While technology is designed to help increase productivity, notifications are, in his opinion, “a double-edged sword” and can cause stress.

Over one-third of respondents (37%) to the Asana survey admitted to feeling overwhelmed by notifications, and 56% said they feel that they have to respond immediately.

“If you turn [notifications] off altogether, then you have the tendency to think, ‘Am I missing out? Should I be listening to these notifications?’” Hudenko explained. “On the other hand, if you just leave it on, you’ll have this tendency to be distracted and to be concerned about, ‘Oh, should I be looking at everything that comes in?’”

Shutting off. With 37% of respondents saying their workday doesn’t have “a clear start/finish time,” Hudenko said he believes it’s imperative that leaders set guidelines for how and when work and communication happens, because notifications sent outside working hours have the potential to draw employee attention back to work and “lead to more burnout.”

Of course, when employees do sign off, someone else may be getting a notification about that.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.