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Procrastination in the Workplace: Understanding the Impact and Solutions

Procrastination is a common problem that affects employees and leaders alike in any workplace, regardless of their role or industry. In fact, a recent study showed that 88% of workers postpone at least an hour a day, costing over $15,000 per salaried employee, per year. It has a significant impact on productivity, teamwork, and workplace culture. The majority of time spent in procrastination involves internet use, social media and responding to emails. Digital distraction is especially seductive, since it also feels like we are doing something. We just aren’t doing the things we know are a priority for moving us and our business forward.

Impact of Procrastination on Productivity

When we procrastinate, we delay completing tasks until the last minute, which leads to rushing, errors, and poor-quality work resulting in missed deadlines, dissatisfied clients, and lost business opportunities. It seems obvious. Yet we manage to rationalize this behavior anyway.

For example, imagine an advertising agency with a deadline to submit a proposal to a potential client. One of the team members is responsible for creating the content for the proposal but has been procrastinating for days. They may have been doing research, or working on another project, so it isn’t extremely obvious exactly why there’s no progress. Nonetheless, there’s almost nothing to show as the days roll by. In the final days, they rush to complete the task on the day of the deadline, leading to a proposal with errors and poor quality, not to mention a stressed-out team. As a result, the agency loses a potential client due to the poor quality of the proposal.

Impact of Procrastination on Teamwork

When we procrastinate, we can impact more than our own success and productivity. We can delay the completion of tasks that other team members need to do their work. This leads to bottlenecks in the workflow and causing frustration, resentment and anxiety as other team members are carrying an excessive workload.

For example, imagine a software development team that is working on a project with a tight deadline. One of the team members is responsible for writing the code for a critical software component. However, they have been procrastinating for days, delaying the work of the other team members who are waiting for the code to be completed causing friction among team members and leading to a breakdown in teamwork and communication.

Impact of Procrastination on Workplace Culture

When employees procrastinate, they may create a culture of delay and apathy, which is contagious. It may seem like this is especially the case if it is the leader who causes the delays, failing to address process issues, or handle an underperforming team member. It also is the case when a leader fails to deal assertively with a team member who has a pattern of procrastination. This leads to decreased employee motivation and engagement and creates a toxic work environment.

For example, imagine a workplace where employees constantly procrastinate and delay tasks. It creates a culture of apathy, where employees feel that their work does not matter and that there are no meaningful consequences for procrastinating. This leads to decreased employee motivation and engagement, which impacts the organization's overall success.

Solutions for Leaders and Employees

To address the workplace procrastination issue, it is important to create a culture of productivity and accountability. But that’s not always at the root of procrastination. It is important to gain some insight into what may be behind the procrastination behavior, which can range from exhaustion to depression, anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem (occasionally in a specific performance area, rather than generalized) and even ADHD.

When we procrastinate, we are allowing the drive to delay to irrationally override our desire to act. The drive to delay is simply how strongly we feel the need to avoid taking action at the moment. It is based on the desire to feel better in the short term, by avoiding negative emotions (such as fear of a certain task), and by increasing positive emotions (as we saw, often through digital distractions), a behavior described as “giving in to feel good”. This behavior means we avoid in order to protect our emotions in the short term, even though the result could potentially feel far worse in the long run.

Although it is beyond a leader’s role and responsibility to address these underlying issues directly, exploring and neutralizing judgement about the behaviors, inviting the procrastinator to get support, can be very powerful. It invites meaningful change instead of creating a cycle of shame which only perpetuates the procrastination. In addition, leaders can take other, ore global actions for the entire organization (even if it is an organization of one!):

Here are some solutions to implement:

· Set Clear Expectations – Leaders must set clear expectations for themselves, and any employees, providing detailed job descriptions, outlining deadlines, the measurements of success, and setting clear goals. This helps employees understand what’s expected of them and when tasks need to be completed.

· Create a Productive Work Environment – Leaders are the ones who create a work environment that promotes productivity by providing the necessary resources, tools, and support. This includes providing training, technology, and a supportive management style.

· Encourage Time Management – Time management is, at its core, a mindset. Leaders and employees work together best when they cooperatively develop time management approaches that reduce procrastination. This includes setting shared priorities, creating time for strategy, visioning and innovation, as well as breaking projects into smaller, more manageable pieces.

· Hold Teams Accountable – Accountability is not about keeping score. Leaders and their teams become accountable to one another when they provide each other regular feedback, setting consequences for missed deadlines, and recognizing those who meet or exceed expectations. This creates a culture of accountability and motivates employees to both communicate regularly as well as complete tasks on time.

· Foster a Positive Workplace Culture – Leaders who crave high performance and engagement can only do so by fostering a positive workplace culture. This includes promoting open two-way open communication, encouraging collaboration at all levels, and recognizing individual contributions. In addition, a positive workplace culture creates a sense of community and pride in what is created.

· Address Underlying Issues – Leaders must remember at all times that procrastination is not a sign of poor self-discipline. Organizations can work together to address underlying issues contributing to procrastination. For example, it is the leaders’ responsibility to address issues with an unreasonable workload, provide support for employees who may be struggling with mental health issues, and provide resources for employees when personal problems impact productivity.

Procrastination is, at its core, doing something against our better judgement. Most of the underlying issues, such as anxiety and depression, have increased post-Covid, so it is no surprise that procrastination in the workplace is also on the rise. Thankfully, employers and employees who work together to address the issues will develop a company culture that stops procrastination and helps employees feel fulfilled, successful and proud of their work. In addition, by taking proactive steps to address procrastination, employers and employees will create a culture of productivity and accountability that is vital, whether procrastination is present or not.

If you or someone on your team is struggling with procrastination right now, I invite you to not put off taking advantage of a complimentary strategy call, to see what next steps could get you unstuck.

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