By Emma Young
Disruptions in the workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic are no longer what they used to be. Now you’re more likely to be interrupted by a cat jumping on your keyboard or a partner trying to make a cup of tea during a meeting – but when you can focus back on what it was like to work in one Office, you may remember how annoying it was to be disturbed by coworkers dropping by with questions or comments. These “workplace interventions” used to be common in offices and will no doubt be so again. There is certainly plenty of evidence that it interferes with our ability to get things done and that we can find them stressful. However, no one really thought about the potential benefits, note Harshad Puranik of the University of Illinois and colleagues. In her new job in the Journal of Advanced PsychologyThe team reports that while these interruptions have a dark side, they also have a light side.
Prior to the pandemic, Puranik and colleagues studied 111 people, an average age of around 35, who worked full-time. For three weeks around noon every working day, these participants reported all work breaks using simple scales (e.g. when they were interrupted by someone who wanted to ask questions or assign them a new task). their levels of willpower to self-regulate (reporting their level of agreement with “I’m feeling drained” for example); their sense of how connected they felt to other people at work (a measure of “belonging”); and also their stress level. Every day in the late afternoon they took a second short survey to rate their satisfaction with the job.
In line with previous work, the team found that more work breaks were associated with less energy for self-regulation. This helps you get back to a task immediately after a disruption instead of doing a little bit of online shopping, for example. Statistically, this exhausted self-regulation also explained a further connection between more work breaks and lower job satisfaction. So far, so dark.
However, the team also found that work slumps aren’t all bad. In fact, more job breaks were associated with higher affiliation ratings. High affiliation ratings were also independently associated with higher job satisfaction; Although the association between more disorders and higher membership ratings was not strong enough to produce a net increase in job satisfaction, it appeared to mitigate the negative effects of a disorder. “To the best of our knowledge,” they write, “this is the first evidence of a positive relationship between job losses and job satisfaction, implying that this relationship could be more nuanced than previously thought.” They add, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to show that experience of belonging in the workplace can counteract the effects of depletion of self-regulatory resources.”
Although some people will continue to work from home after the lockdown restrictions are lifted, many of us are now preparing to return to our offices. Prior to Covid-19, workplace interventions were described as a “common and consistent” feature of working life for people in many different professions. Given the previous consensus that they only have downsides, this new affiliation boost is worth mentioning. “We believe this is a crucial finding,” writes the team.
– Excuse me, do you have a minute? An investigation into the dark and light side effects of daily work interruptions on employee wellbeing.
Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) works at BPS Biomedarticles