How to Keep Employees Focused and “In the Zone”

How to keep employees focused

We’ve all been there: Whether at a meeting, at their desk, or taking a training module, despite your best efforts, you struggle to keep employees focused. Maybe you’re thinking about what you need to buy at the store on the way home. Maybe you’re daydreaming about your next vacation. Whatever the reason for the wandering, it signifies a deeper problem than disorganized thoughts: It means that you’re not engaged with what’s happening around you.

Of course, as J.R.R. Tolkien famously said, “Not all who wander are lost.” When you’re actively engaging your employees, neuroprocesses switch from “daydream” mode to “executive function” mode–just what you want to ensure employees really absorb training and perform at an optimal level they might not know they had previously.

What the Brain Looks Like “In The Zone”

Some interesting things happen to the brain when we are experiencing various stimuli. If you were to look at brain scans of employees when “in the zone” of being actively focused and taking in new information, you’d notice that both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus light up. It makes sense, since both of those areas of the brain are responsible for things like working memory, planning, decision-making, and reason; the executive functions of the brain.

Check a brain scan of someone whose mind is wandering aimlessly? Just about every other area of the brain is lit up instead. It means the employee is no longer converting working memory to memory storage or engaging with the material. Instead, it might as well go in one ear and out the other.

How to Activate and Sustain Engagement

So how do you make sure that your employees are consistently “in the zone” of focused attention during learning experiences and throughout the work day? 

Here are a few tips to keep employees super engaged and hyper-focused at work.

  • Keep it short and sweet. While the jury is still out on how long a human brain can remain focused on one topic, we do know that the human attention span is somewhere around eight seconds (shorter than that of a goldfish). If you want learners to stay in the zone, make sure you follow suit and keep learning short and pithy or you could risk losing them to wandering minds. The same concept works for designing employee work days. Having employees work in focused intervals of time (different sources claim between 30 up to 90 minutes) followed by short breaks in between works to help keep employees on track and hyper focused. 
  • Engage with activity and gamificationWhen learners are inactive, you’re less likely to find their prefrontal cortexes alight with engagement. Instead, rely on learner participation through game-like elements, quizzes, and competition to help increase engagement rates and get them in the zone faster. Outside of training, a little competition or a rewards-based system can help to more actively engage employees by amping up and sustaining motivation. 
  • Create an emotional connection. Learners stay in the zone when they feel emotionally connected to the subject matter. This can be done via adding humor, hitting on common pain points learners experience, or taking the time to explain the “WHY”  behind the training. An emotional bond puts employees in the zone and keeps them there. The same can be applied to sustain employee engagement throughout the work day by ensuring employees understand how their contributions daily impact the larger vision and goals.

Being in the focused attention zone is the holy grain of corporate training and employee management, but it doesn’t need turn into a hopeless quest. Respect your employees (and all of their complicated neuroprocesses) and you’ll be able to increase executive function and make sure they’re in the zone when it really counts.


Bad eLearning sends one clear message from your business to your employees: “We don’t care about you!” Companies who value their talent invest in them, and one of the top ways to show employees you value their time and work is by providing them with great learning to help them progress in their career. Innovation stems from employees that feel valued and care enough about the company to want to make it better.

Connect with us here to find out how we can help you build learning that says to your employees: “We Value You!”