A Swiss study finds that being interrupted while we work produces a paradoxical effect.
When you work within an office, you need to remain productive despite continual interruptions. After some time, giving an answer to questions, texts, calls, and emails becomes less annoying as you develop the habit of calmly picking right up where you left off.
However, new research from Switzerland finds that calm is merely superficial.
Continual interruptions at work cause an unconscious upsurge in the strain hormone cortisol.
The analysis finds that although we might think continual interruptions usually do not bother us, they affect us on a physiological level.
The analysis appears in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Known reasons for the study
A recently available study by Stiftung Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz, Job Stress Index 2020, reveals that almost a third of Swiss office staff experience workplace stress.
Concerned about medical ramifications of chronic stress - which may include exhaustion alongside other adverse outcomes - a multidisciplinary team from the Mobiliar Lab for Analytics at ETH Zurich embarked on a mission to find methods to discover and remediate workplace stress.
The team hopes to develop a machine learning-based tool that may find stressors before they turn into a chronic problem.
“Our first step was to discover how to gauge the effects of social pressure and interruptions - two of the most typical causes of stress at work,” says psychologist Jasmine Kerr.
The other team members are mathematician Mara Nägelin and computer scientist Raphael Weibel. All three are doctoral individuals at ETH Zurich.
“Most research into workplace interruptions carried out to date focused only on the effect on performance and productivity. Our study shows for the first time that in addition they affect the amount of cortisol a person releases. Basically, they actually influence a person’s biological stress response.”
A trip to the office
Kerr, Nägelin, and Weibel recruited 90 individuals - 44 females and 46 males between 18-40 years of age - willing to participate in experiments lasting just under 2 hours. The study team paid each participant 75 Swiss francs when planning on taking part.
Setting the stage for these tests, the researchers converted the ETH Zurich Decision Science Laboratory into three simulated office spaces, each with multiple workstation rows. Every workstation had a computer, monitor, chair, and a kit with that your “worker” could accumulate saliva samples for the researchers. The samples were analyzed to examine individuals’ degrees of cortisol.
In each session, 10 individuals were located in one of the offices at a fictional insurance provider, with the three groups subjected to three different degrees of stress.
All participants took part in typical office tasks, including typing up handwritten documents and arranging client appointments. Through the sessions, they were questioned six different times regarding their mood. Portable devices measured their heartbeats as the researchers tracked cortisol levels in their saliva samples.