April 6, 2021
In those heady pre-lockdown days, the most common complaint about office life, and especially open plan office life, was the inability to get work done without distraction. Now a new paper from researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that the interruptions may have served some purpose in the way they helped people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace.
The study – Excuse me, do you have a minute? An exploration of the dark- and bright-side effects of daily work interruptions for employee well-being led by Harshad Puranik and colleagues has been published in the US based Journal of Advanced Psychology (paywall).
In a pre-pandemic study of 111 full time office workers, with an average age of 35, participants were asked to report each day on work interruptions and distractions from colleagues. They were simultaneously asked to self-report on their general feelings about their work and wellbeing, their sense of connection with other people and their levels of stress.
As expected, interruptions had a negative effect on the ability of people to self-regulate by returning to their work. The study confirmed that this well documented issue is associated with lower levels of job satisfaction.
However, the results of the study also suggest that interruptions were also associate with greater feelings of belongingness. However, the authors note that this does not fully compensate for the lower levels of job satisfaction associated with too-frequent distractions.
“To our knowledge,” they write, “this is the first evidence of a positive relationship between work intrusions and job satisfaction, implying this relationship might be more nuanced than previously thought…To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that in a workplace setting, experiencing belongingness can somewhat counteract the effects of self-regulatory resource depletion.”