Working Distracted

Posted on June 5, 2018

Alicia is trying to focus on her work. She is covering the second window at the fast-food restaurant where she has been working for the last three weeks. In this position she takes orders, collects money, and makes change. She’s seated in a small area to the side of the main kitchen, which gives her a little privacy. Her employer has a strict no texting rule, but glancing around to make sure she is not observed, she takes a second to tap out a quick message.

“U good?”

As she processes the next order she feels her phone vibrate, and between customers she glances down again. Her daughter has sent back a picture of a plate of cookies and milk, and the tv in the background. Sighing with relief, Alicia slides the phone back in her pocket.

The no texting rule is important, and ordinarily Alicia is not a rebel. She knows that without this job, she and her boyfriend won’t be able to make rent. But because the shift times are not consistent, she relies on a patchwork of school, friends and family to provide child care for her seven-year-old daughter. Today, she couldn’t find anyone who could watch Marissa, so she took a risk and left her home alone.

Marissa knows the neighbors, and Alicia’s boyfriend will be out of work in just a few hours, but it’s still stressful and distracting. This is not the type of situation that the no texting rule was meant to cover, but Alicia doesn’t feel comfortable sharing the situation with her manager.

The law varies widely, from strict states where it is illegal to leave a child under 12 unattended for any reason, to Utah’s newly created law which allows “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities.”

Today it has become far more acceptable to allow younger kids some independence, but seven is still considered young to be left alone for hours. And despite changes in the law, there is still a double standard for what constitutes neglect.

Employers are often unaware of these types of situations, both because the employee is reluctant to share the details of their home life for fear of losing their job, and because busy supervisors simply don’t have enough time to engage in a detailed investigation to understand why a worker might be distracted at work.

The typical response in these situations is to issue a warning, and if the behavior continues, to discipline or terminate the employee. But with work schedules continually shifting for many frontline workers, finding consistent child care can be a tremendous challenge.

Distracted working has consequences for both the business and the employee. The worker is risking their job, as well as enduring stress as they worry about what could be happening at home. In that situation, they can’t possibly be fully focused on their job, which at a minimum, results in lower productivity, and at worst can be the cause of workplace accidents.

Forward-thinking employers are now taking a closer look at how they manage these situations. Some are adapting work schedules to create more consistency. Others are investing in benefits such as employee resource navigators to help individuals find personalized solutions to these issues so that they can be fully present and focused while they are at work.

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twitterWorking distracted is bad for business and the employee. Forward-thinking employers are investing in #resourcenavigators that help employees cope with life and stay focused at work #SWM #WorkLab


For frontline #workers, one missed shift could jeapordize their job or upend their budget. If childcare suddenly falls through, they may be left without options  #SWM #WorkLab

Topics: workforce support,


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