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The human mind is susceptible to all kinds of cognitive effects, and the workplace is a breeding ground for productivity-draining psychological phenomena.

With dozens of personality types and all the fallout that comes with seniority and hierarchy, it’s not uncommon for team members to succumb to draining psychological effects from time to time.

This guide will present a list of the eight psychological phenomena that are most rampant in the workplace, and how you can limit their impact to support high-functioning teams.

1. Ziegnarik Effect

Definition:

The Ziegnarik Effect shows that it’s easier to remember tasks that are interrupted and left incomplete than those which are completed.

Symptoms:

If a team member works for a long time on a single task, it’s less likely that they’ll retain information about it and be able to recall it at a later time. 

For example, if you have a team member working on a report for an hour and a half without any breaks or context-shifting and then ask them to discuss their findings in a meeting, it’s probable that they’ll forget important data and statistics during recall.

Another concerning manifestation of the Ziegnarik Effect is the intrusive thoughts that inevitably come with unfinished tasks. If you’re leading your team from task to task at breakneck speed, it’s possible that several tasks will get left by the wayside along the way, resulting in heightened distractibility for your team members.

It can be hard not to fixate on the few open tasks lingering in your inbox or the notifications left unattended, and as such, team members can lose productivity as they work to close any open threads or execute small tasks on their plate. 

If a team member feels as if they can never quite catch up with their workload, their likelihood of developing burnout skyrockets as they can start each day feeling overwhelmed.

How to prevent it:

To improve recall, you can counteract the Ziegnarik Effect by encouraging employees to take regular 5-minute breaks when working on time-consuming tasks.

You can also harness the Ziegnarik Effect and use it to boost team member productivity. Implement a team policy whereby team members must sink 5 or so minutes into an important task before they tackle it head-on. This way, you can effectively nullify the proclivity for procrastination that so many employees struggle with.

As for getting caught up in smaller tasks due to intrusive thoughts, you can assign time each work day for team members to tackle anything outstanding on their plate. That way, the next time you ask them to engage in deep work you’ll have their full attention.

2. Ego Depletion

Definition:

Ego depletion is the idea that willpower is intrinsically linked with an inner reserve of mental energy, meaning that once the reservoir is tapped out you’re likely to slip into bad habits.

Symptoms:

In the workplace, ego depletion manifests as distancing from work in any way possible. This could be frequent trips to the bathroom, checking Facebook every 15 minutes, or another form of procrastination that takes you away from your work.

Over time, believing ego depletion to be real can lead to employee burnout as the individual will feel as if they’ve ‘run out’ of energy to give to their work since it’s finite.

How to prevent it:

The easiest way to prevent ego depletion is to remove its power - it’s a false notion that can have damaging effects on the psyche but only if we believe it’s true. You could, for example, point your team members to this study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that effectively debunks the theory that willpower is finite.

Spread the message that we’re all human and that just because we may lack motivation in certain moments, it doesn’t mean we have to give up because we’re all out of willpower. Sometimes it’s a case of finding out the deeper reasons behind procrastination, and that could be a good talking point for getting more from your team members.

3. Switching Cost 

Definition:

The switching cost effect is a loss of focus that comes when you multitask and switch from one task or app to another. 

Symptoms:

This is one we can all relate to - the switching cost effect is felt whenever you transition from working on one task to another. 

Rather than completing the task before moving on, you’re stuck in a sort of cognitive limbo, leaving behind an incomplete task to tackle a new one. As such, your subconscious is still grappling with the previous task as you engage in another.

Loss of focus, mental fatigue, and a lack of motivation are all common symptoms of this psychological phenomenon.

How to prevent it:

The best way to combat the switching cost effect is to encourage prioritization. If your team members know how to plan for the day ahead, they shouldn’t have to switch tasks last minute to work on something else.

If you use communication software like Slack, it can also be helpful to allow for periods of ‘do not disturb’ time so that team members aren’t always inundated with messages and notifications, allowing them to complete each task.

4. Decision Fatigue

Definition

Decision fatigue occurs when you’re faced with many decisions throughout the day and suffer from mental fog.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of decision fatigue can vary, but effectively they all boil down to the same thing: an inability to operate with mental clarity. 

Decision fatigue clouds your judgment, which means it becomes far easier to justify bad habits such as unhealthy eating, and indulging procrastination tendencies which can ultimately lead to burnout. Further, decision fatigue can lead to making poor and impulsive decisions.

How to prevent it:

One of the most effective strategies for avoiding decision fatigue is to just make a decision. This is something you can instill in your team members so that when they are presented with several similar options, they’re inclined to pick one without overthinking it.

The reality is that many big decisions your team members are asked to make throughout the day don’t require extensive consideration unless they hold a senior management position

Here’s an adage you can share with your team members:

Perfection is the enemy of progress

5. Social Loafing

Definition

Social loafing refers to a lack of individual effort when working as part of a team.

Symptoms:

We’ve all worked in a group setting before - be it at school or work - where there’s a relaxed vibe and the focus seems to be on anything but the work at hand. 

As soon as a group forms, there’s almost an instant desire to chat away and adopt a laissez-faire attitude, perhaps assuming someone else will take care of the work.

Social loafing, as such, results in diminished productivity levels and lessens overall output when team members are grouped together.

How to prevent it:

To prevent social loafing from setting in and negatively impacting your team’s productivity levels, it’s important to set expectations from the outset. Establish a clear process for working as a team, so nobody can just zone out and take their mind off the work. Use a wfh monitoring system to track employee progress over time.

One way to do this is through creating to-do lists and assigning action items, so you can measure the team’s productivity effectively and keep them on task.

6. Meeting Amnesia

Definition

Meeting amnesia is a tendency to forget the details of the meeting that just took place due to their monotonous nature.

Symptoms:

Team members prone to meeting amnesia will likely have a hard time focusing on what’s next because in their minds, the meeting didn’t establish anything concrete. One meeting bleeds into the next without time to reflect, making it very difficult for them to take the next steps.

How to prevent it:

Actionable meeting notes are essential if you want to combat meeting amnesia since they give everyone an itemized list of actions to take immediately following the meeting. 

You can also get into the habit of quick, punchy debriefs that will let you know if every team member took all the relevant information on board.

Insightful HelpsYou Pick up on Workplace Productivity Trends

Workplace internet monitoring solutions can help you identify when your team may be suffering from the various psychological phenomena outlined in this guide.

With a comprehensive employees tracking system like Insightful, you can track the performance of individuals and teams to get a clear idea of what’s working and what isn’t.

What is performance tracking?

Put simply, it’s when you monitor activities of employees to build a picture of output or productivity over a specified period of time. Using metrics such as hours worked, you can then employ workforce optimization tools in an effort to boost overall productivity levels.

With remote desktop monitoring through Insightful, here’s how you can measure productivity trends:

  •  Track idle time (how much time employees spend interacting with their computer)
  •  Use the app to track employee performance over time with the real-time insights tab
  •  Employ the internet monitoring tool to track time employees spend in different apps

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