The Impact of Interruptions on Work Quality, Productivity

05.01.2015
HR & Safety

Typical office employee is interrupted up to six times per hour

Modern office workers are expected to multitask regularly, often juggling multiple projects and priorities over the course of a day. Studies have shown that the typical employee in an office environment is interrupted up to six times per hour, but how does that impact performance?

New research published in Human Factors, the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, evaluates how ongoing interruptions can negatively affect the quality of work.

“People don’t realize how disruptive interruptions can be,” says Cyrus Foroughi, coauthor of “Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work?” and a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University’s human factors and applied cognition program.

“There is value in determining whether interruptions affect the quality of the tasks that many people perform regularly, such as writing essays or reports.”

Foroughi, with coauthors Nicole Werner, Erik Nelson, and Deborah Boehm-Davis, designed a study assessing how varying levels of interruption affected writing quality in an essay project. Two groups of participants were asked to outline and write an essay on an assigned topic. One group was interrupted multiple times with an unrelated task, and a control group had no interruptions. Independent graders scored the finished essays on a numbered scale.

The researchers found significantly lower quality in essays completed by the participants who were interrupted during the outline and writing phases than in essays of those who were not interrupted. In addition, those participants who were interrupted during the writing phase wrote considerably fewer words.

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