Attracting the smartest and most highly qualified people is key to the success of a business, correct? But what happens when the new high flyers don’t live up to expectations?

New research shows that the even the smartest of workers often fall victim to the “epidemic of overwhelm” in the office - the result of having too many distractions.

According to a survey across 17 countries, conducted by workplace solutions firm Steelcase, nearly half (49%) of workers say they are unable to find space in the office where they can work distraction-free. However, by understanding the way the mind works, Steelcase believes that smart brain power can be channeled to gain maximum potential and lead to greater productivity.

Dr Ned Hallowell, psychiatrist and expert on Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD), believes that more intelligent people are often less productive in the workplace because they have more difficulty prioritising. Ideas don’t come in an orderly manner and trying to deal with each idea, as it arises, can lead to a feeling of inadequacy and inability to deal with the work load as a whole, Dr Hallowell explains. What this means is that smarter people, who were hired for their intelligence, often fail to fulfil their own and their bosses’ expectations.

According to Steelcase's research, employees are distracted on average every three minutes and takes 23 minutes to return full focus to the task.

Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland said: “Employers are always on the lookout for the brightest people available, however the difficulty to withstand multiple tasks and distractions in the office affects smart people in the same way as everyone else, if not more.

“The ways in which we work are changing more rapidly than ever before and the brain is being subjected to stresses and distractions which can lead to overload and statistics show that distractions in the workplace are on the rise.”

The good news is that mindfulness can be improved and it is possible to train the brain to focus more effectively.

Steelcase has identified seven key points to help businesses get the best out of their smart employees:

  1. Multitasking does not make us more productive - Not fully focusing on the task in hand means that we are not prioritising effectively. Companies should provide work areas which allow workers to escape distractions and give the task full attention.
  2. Train the brain - It has been proven that keeping the mind tuned to the moment can increase gamma activity in the brain, which indicates focused thought. Provide work spaces which are conducive to quiet concentration and mindfulness.
  3. Sleep - Smart people think a lot and thinking uses energy and adding a nap room to the work place will allow workers to recharge their batteries and make it easier for them to focus and regulate mood.
  4. Work on the move - Contrary to static sitting, which makes concentration more difficult, exercise produces the protein BDNF (brain derived neurotic factor) which is vital for learning, memory and concept thinking. Providing a treadmill desk, standing height tables or encouraging staff to take a walk in the fresh air will allow bright minds to focus better.
  5. Allow for regular breaks - The capacity of the brain to focus intensely is usually limited to about 45 minutes. Interrupting a task and perhaps moving to another area such as a cafe area can allow for a stimulating exchange of ideas and rejuvenates the brain ready for the next task in hand.
  6. Give shape and colour to ideas - People think in shapes, pictures and patterns— not in numbers and letters. Using digital and analog tools to visualize information can support better thinking and increase focus. Encourage workers to organize information by sketching out or projecting ideas.
  7. Make sure every seat is the best seat in the house - Everyone knows from schooldays that it is difficult to concentrate from the back of the classroom. Providing work areas where staff can exchange ideas, look each other in the eye and converse without distractions will allow greater focus on the task.