A Prime Distraction

Amazon’s two-day sale is becoming akin to March Madness. How much does it dent worker focus?

It’s hard enough for managers to keep their employees focused, and along comes Amazon Prime Day.

The made-up holiday—which actually encompasses Monday and Tuesday—is the retail giant’s effort to spur sales in July, a traditionally slow month for retail. By some estimates, it could get generate $120 million an hour in sales.

Leaders realize that many of those purchases, whether they’re from Amazon or a slew of other firms who now run competing online offers, will happen during the workday. Employees of all levels will set aside projects to search for the best deals. “As good as this Prime Day is for both Amazon and a broad range of retailers, it’s tough for employers,” says Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader for organization strategy and digital transformation.

Experts say Prime Day, in its fifth year, is becoming like other significant workplace distractions, including March Madness, Cyber Monday, the World Cup, and the hourly news cycle. It’s also the middle of summer, a time of year where employees may already be thinking about sunshine, warm weather and vacations.

Blain says there are some steps that leaders can use to try to curb work distractions from Prime Day or any other big outside events. Employers can try to channel the enthusiasm employees have toward the online shopping day into a work-related contest, Blain says. For instance, several firms will create internal sales contests around a March Madness-style theme. “That energy generated can be used to accomplish work projects,” Blain says.

There’s also the extreme way of limiting a Prime Day-esque distraction: tell the IT department to limit internet access on work devices. “It’s a last resort but organizations have done it,” Blain says. But that could end up creating another problem – instead of employees at least looking at their work machines, they’ll do their shopping on their personal phones or computers, potentially missing even more work.

Experts say that employees stay focused and engaged over the long haul when they feel connected to the organization’s purpose, and that purpose is articulated by an inspirational, authentic leader. “When we feel part of an inspiring mission, it’s easier for us to stay focused on our work,” says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman. That top-level purpose can then be reinforced by lower-level managers, who can connect the purpose to projects and deadlines, Blain adds.

Leaders should also look at their own engagement levels, experts say. Leaders can minimize their own distractions by trying to stay balanced. Plus, they can use empathy to understand that their direct reports might just want a few minutes away from the daily grind.

Prime Day or not, many organizations have their work cut out for them to improve employee engagement. Only about 30% of workers say they feel engaged at work, according to various surveys. But if leaders can successfully connect the firm’s purpose to employees, then they could see deeper levels of employee engagement throughout the year, making a few minutes of online shopping over two workdays a non-issue.