Why Attention is Your Scarcest Resource at Work

August 11, 2022
5 min
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Attention scarcity is costing your company.

Whether you see it or not, you’re competing for your employees’ attention. From mobile notifications to social media, and even productive tools like Slack, the digital products your workforce uses are designed to grab attention. With all the notifications we receive throughout the day, it’s enough for even the most focused to lose their train of thought.

All this clamoring for attention has led to a continuous stream of distractions for everyone. Information overload is a constant reality. With information overload comes a scarcity of attention. This has turned employee attention into an invaluable resource that is, more and more, being drained away from your business.

With a barrage of slack messages pertaining to different tasks, ten different tabs begging to be clicked, and notifications from all their digital tools, you’re fighting for your employees’ attention. This fight for your workforce’s attention is known as the “attention economy”.

Why Attention is Your Scarcest Resource at Work

What is the ‘attention economy’?

If an economy is a system to address scarcity, then the attention economy is how we allocate our increasingly scarce attention. In an environment where information is over abundant, attention becomes scarce. Those who can command the most attention possess the greatest economic potential. It may sound simple enough, but it has left an indelible mark on our society and, especially, the business world.

Although the phrase “pay attention” was not historically intended to refer to an economic exchange, it can certainly mean that today. As consumers, we are often required to pay with our attention via advertisements for the ‘free’ digital products and services we use. The ad revenue garnered from the attention of billions of users has made Silicon Valley the center of wealth that it is today.

These tech companies understand the value of attention. But, so far, the best practices of people strategy has not caught up with this core insight.

Why Attention is Your Scarcest Resource at Work

What does the attention economy mean for your business?

As a microcosm of the larger attention economy, your business reflects its larger trends. These trends show a marked decline in attention span.

According to a study by Microsoft, the average attention span has dropped precipitously in recent years: Dropping from 12 seconds in 2000 to a mere 8 seconds. This finding comes with large context specific caveats – we are still able to hold attention for long periods of time when we’re engaged in relevant or interesting ways. Suggesting we’re less tolerant of useless or boring information than before.

So we have a short attention span and are prone to switch back and forth between tasks. You might ask, “What’s the big deal? We thrive on multitasking.” Well, a consistent body of research has shown that there is no such thing as multitasking. Instead, there’s only ‘task switching’ – disrupting the flow of any given task – hampering the performance of each. According to a study at UC Irvine, every time an employee switches a task, or has their attention diverted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back into a focused flow state.

When you take the little distractions that everyone faces day to day and expand it to encompass an entire company, it starts to add up. Few estimates are readily available on the monetary cost of these distractions, but according to Jonathan B. Spira, analyst for Basex, information overload (and resulting multitasking) can cost 8 hours per week per employee.

Although these many challenges exist within the attention economy, the upside is that there are proven methods for grabbing your workforces attention.

Why Attention is Your Scarcest Resource at Work

How to promote people initiatives while facing attention scarcity.

Your people’s attention is scarce. That means to deliver information and learning materials effectively you have to signal that the information is worthy of their focus. When it comes to getting people’s attention and motivating them to act, few are better than marketers.

Marketers have so far dominated the attention economy. Methods like segmentation, utilizing the wealth of data we have available, has helped highly relevant content to get to the right people at the right time.

Regardless of how you may feel of how marketers have applied their methods, they have worked astonishingly well. We’ve all had that uncanny experience of receiving an ad for something we were just talking or thinking about. Now, imagine the power of bringing that level of targeting to your employees’ learning content. Utilizing your company’s data, ProHabits can do precisely that.

ProHabits reduces the complexity of initiatives by breaking them down into calls to action delivered by nudges. Users then receive these nudges within their workflows helping to sustain focus in the right areas. This helps reduce ambiguity and complexity for your workforce while still delivering essential content.

Why Attention is Your Scarcest Resource at Work

People leaders should take the same trail that was blazed by digital marketers in order to capture people’s attention and call them to action. It’s time people leaders added attention management to their toolbox to leverage the attention economy to their advantage.

Want to know more? Let’s chat!

John Paul

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