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

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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.”

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.