Stress can more than double mind-wandering in workers

16 April 2021 2 min. read
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Stress can increase mind-wandering at work by two to three times, according to a recent study from Potential Project, a leadership development consultancy. The firm’s “The Mind at Work” study used a proprietary digital tool to track respondent feedback in real-time during the flow of a work week.

Potential Project’s report found that workers’ minds wander at work an average 37% of the time. Stressed workers, however, have wandering minds for nearly 60% of the workday.

Unfocused employees and absent-minded leaders cost the US economy nearly $30 billion annually, according to the report.

Matching up with anecdotal experience, Mondays host the most mind-wandering, while Friday afternoons are the least productive time period for most workers. Wednesdays are when workers are most focused, with mind-wandering hitting a low of 28% on Wednesday afternoon.

Numerous factors help reduce stress in workers, and in turn help boost productivity. Employees whose work is purpose-driven are 30% less stressed and 50% more focused on their day-to-day tasks, and employees who get a good night's sleep come to work with 15% more focus and 20% less stress. Employees with mind training practice feel more resilient and present, and their wind-wandering is 50% lower than less mindful colleagues.

Stress can more than double mind-wandering in workers

Strong social connections and interactions – harder to maintain in the “new normal” – lower mind-wandering by 18%.

Though mind-wandering is lower across the board for calm versus stressed workers, productivity patterns during the work week vary between the two groups. Though mind-wandering levels for stressed workers are highest on Friday (59%), they actually reach the lowest level of the week for calm workers (25%).

"It is vital, particularly now as organizations plan for a return to work, for us to deepen our understanding of what drives renewed engagement and sustained performance at work,” Rasmus Hougaard, CEO of Potential Project, said. “Employees and leaders want to feel and perform better at work as we climb out of the pandemic."

Potential Project is headquartered in New York and provides research, including the biannual The Mind at Work study, as well as leadership development and consulting services. The firm has approximately 200 consultants and works with clients such as McKinsey, Ikea, Unilever, Lego, and Microsoft.