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Workplace Interruptions Can Be Annoying, But There Is An Upside, Study Finds

As long as you are not on a strict deadline, survey participants seemed to welcome co-worker interruptions.

A University of Cincinnati study finds that, pre-COVID, the positive benefits of workplace interruptions seem to outweigh the negatives.

Before the pandemic, when most people were still going into work, a UC grad student, his business professor and another researcher decided to survey people about interruptions during their day and whether they viewed them positively or negatively.

Former UC student Harshad Puranik, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Heather Vough, associate professor at George Mason University; and Joel Koopman of Texas A&M have published their research in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

They surveyed 111 UC employees, and people employed at local businesses and organizations. For three weeks, they sent twice daily questionnaires to participants - after lunch and at the end of the day.

Surprisingly, the positives mitigated the negatives when it came to these “workplace intrusions.”

"This belongingness actually makes people feel more satisfied and prevents the negative impact of the task interruptions on job satisfaction," according to Vough.

Puranik says there is a social element to interruptions and we have been missing out on these interruptions during COVID. “If anything, human beings are fundamentally social beings, and we have this inherent need to interact with each other," he says.

Helping workers to see interruptions as a positive is flexibility in their work schedule. If they have a deadline, they are more likely to see that interruption as a negative.

Vough says there is a message for managers. “Sometimes that’s the advice that’s given is just prevent interruptions entirely. But in fact, we do see this bright side and what our advice for managers is, is to give employees a little more autonomy.”

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.