According to the Information Overload Research Group, knowledge workers waste up to a fourth of their time on the job dealing with “too much information.” Santiago Jaramillo, CEO of employee engagement app company Emplify, told Chief Executive that this information overload, which he calls “infobesity,” is an onslaught of information thrown at employees every day. This includes not only external information and distractions but also those from internal sources as well.
“Combating infobesity is critical to the health of an organization. Employees need a way to detach from the overabundance of information and focus on what is truly engaging and impactful in their work,” said Jaramillo.
He said excessive information can cloud important messages and lead employees to engage in multitasking. While people used to think juggling multiple tasks at once was productive, researchers have found it to be exactly the opposite, as there are “cognitive costs” every time a person switches between tasks. Jaramillo said multitasking can put employees at risk for burning out or becoming disengaged if they don’t find ample time to disconnect. Every message, call, or knock on the door not only impacts productivity and momentum, it also can impact engagement by making it more difficult to accomplish the most important tasks.
Jaramillo said there are a number of things employers can to reduce information overload and increase employee productivity. They should start by refining their information flow to only what employees need to know and things that are relevant to their team, tasks and outcomes. Organizations also can reduce information overload by limiting choices and by sharing a simple, strategic vision to keep employees focused. “In a world where information is at their fingertips, a little focus helps to declutter and bring the most important tasks to light,” he said.
Dionne Mahaffey, business psychologist and chief executive of the CPAI Group, Inc., said that leaders can implement specific strategies to limit interruptions by providing people with a “deeper workplace connection.” She said employees should first be allowed “no interruption time zones” that let them work without answering phones, emails or responding to inquiries. The next step is to establish operational definitions that might focus around core job descriptions. These operational definitions will guide work by which everything else, barring emergencies, must wait. Workers also should track their performance and assess it through internal and external feedback. And most importantly, Mahaffey said, organizations should “practice” reducing information flow by being mindful to prioritize tasks around work that meets business objectives.
“Achieving greater productivity in the face of information overload takes practice, but by following these steps it can be achieved,” said Mahaffey.
Organizations can ultimately increase employee engagement by reducing information overload. Jaramillo said a leader’s job is to help employees see their role clearly despite the myriad of information thrown their way. When employees don’t know what information is important and don’t know how to contribute in meaningful ways, they don’t understand how to prioritize work and get out of that rut. “When people find clarity and focus in their work, they are more productive and it becomes a win-win for the employee and employer,” Jaramillo said.