Being interrupted at work is a common occurrence. Work intrusions are a specific type of work interruption in which a person’s ongoing work is unexpectedly interrupted by another person. Examples of work intrusions include situations when someone unexpectedly stops by a coworker’s desk to chat or to ask for help with another task.
Work intrusions are often thought of as detrimental to job satisfaction, due to the fact that they can interfere with one’s ability to complete the task at hand. However, in addition to interfering with work tasks, work intrusions also have a social component, in that they involve interacting with the interrupter. Previous research on work intrusions has largely focused on the task-related component, but neglected to consider the potential impact of this social component of work intrusions.
THE BRIGHT SIDE OF WORK INTRUSIONS
New research (Puranik et al., 2021) considers both the task and social aspects of work intrusions to explore how daily work intrusions may have both negative and positive effects on job satisfaction. The researchers surveyed a sample of employees twice a day for a period of 3 weeks. The surveys asked about participants’ daily work intrusions, sense of belongingness, and job satisfaction. The also measured a concept called self-regulatory resource depletion, which refers to employees’ capacity for self-control, something that can be depleted under trying circumstances.
The results of the study reveal that, as predicted, work intrusions can simultaneously have both positive and negative effects on job satisfaction. The negative influence of work interruptions on job satisfaction is due to the fact that intrusions require use of one’s limited supply of self-regulatory resources. On the other hand, the positive influence of work interruptions on job satisfaction is due to the fact that the social aspect of intrusions can increase employees’ sense of belongingness at work. Furthermore, these two seemingly opposing pathways interact; a sense of belongingness “buffers” or reduces the ability for intrusions to have a harmful downstream impact on job satisfaction.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study reveals how work interruptions can have both positive and negative influences on job performance, which contrasts with common belief that all work interruptions are bad and should be avoided. While it is true that interruptions can be harmful due to their interference with tasks (and subsequent depletion of self-regulatory resources), they can also be beneficial due to the social aspect of intrusions, which can increase one’s sense of belongingness. Therefore, the authors of this study urge employers to better manage work intrusions rather than attempt to eliminate them entirely.
Additionally, the authors suggest that employers consider interventions that aim to reduce self-regulatory demands at work – for example, by redesigning workplaces to decrease distracting background noise. By allowing employees to preserve their self-regulatory resources, they will be better equipped to handle work intrusions when they occur.
Puranik, H., Koopman, J., & Vough, H. C. (2021). Excuse me, do you have a minute? An exploration of the dark- and bright-side effects of daily work interruptions for employee well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.