HR BLOG: Your team’s attention span is decreasing! Or is it?

Ever heard the phrase “Humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish”? Perhaps you have quoted it yourself.

This attention-grabbing headline has spread like wildfire in recent years as many have nodded, shrugged and added “Well of course, technology and smart phones are to blame!”  And if we say it and hear it enough, we may start to believe it without question.

But after some digging on the topic, the BBC found the statistics behind the observation to be a bit “fishy” and questioned the validity of the findings of various reports on the topic. On speaking directly to a psychology lecturer who studies the attention of drivers and crime witnesses, the BBC report went on to suggest that attention spans are better described as “task dependent”.

We’d like to add that a person’s attention span can differ depending on the individual and their behaviours. Therefore, it would be difficult to define an average attention span.

Why do people lose attention?

So, if we still have your attention, what does this say for the attention span of your team?

If your employees appear to be disengaged with a task, it could be for any of the following reasons:

  • It wasn’t communicated well
  • They can’t see how it fits into their timeline or schedule
  • They can’t focus
  • It doesn’t match their abilities
  • There is no obvious reward
  • They just find it plain boring

As an employer, what can you do to boost employee engagement and why should you want to?

Engagement leads to productivity which then leads to tasks getting completed efficiently. So strong engagement can be a key factor in the success of your business. We think it could be a good idea to break down tasks before you delegate them to your team. Read on to find out how:


When delivering instructions to an employee, good communication is essential to see the task through to completion. A tip to check for understanding would be to ask your employee to repeat the task back to you. Written or demonstrated instructions can also be beneficial for some people.

A timeline of events

Have you allotted adequate time for your employee to complete the task? Keep in mind regular breaks. The minimum should be at least one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break if they work more than six hours a day.


If your employee appears to be easily distracted from completing a task it could be that they are unable to focus. A few top tips on focus include: Introducing a quiet hour, having a separate space for tasks that require high concentration or running a planning session with your team. If they are openly bored by the task, removing some distractions could help to motivate them.


Focus and attention can be affected by a learning disability or disorder, and/or a person’s experience. You will want to make sure that the tasks you delegate are a good match for an employee’s abilities.


A little can go a long way when it comes to rewarding your team. It could be something as simple as them feeling satisfaction at a job well done or recognition when a task has been completed. A “well done” or a mention in a team meeting can be a great form of regular encouragement.

Now that you know you probably have more than eight seconds of attention from your team, why not empower them and try the above suggestions to boost employee engagement?

Alison Schreiber runs The HR Dept Durham and Darlington franchise, and works with a number of businesses across PBP. For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington or call Alison on 01325 526036 or 07535 853226.