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The Pros and Cons of Interruptions at Work

Interruptions at work are typically a common occurrence. Work intrusions occur when an employee’s work in unexpectedly interrupted by someone else. Examples of work intrusions include someone asking for help or a coworker stopping by to chat.

The vast majority of research has focused on how work intrusions impact work tasks. For example, work intrusion can interfere with someone’s ability to complete a task, which can adversely impact job satisfaction. Work intrusions also have a social component because they involve interacting with the interrupter. Previous research has neglected this aspect of work intrusions.

Recent research in the Journal of Applied Psychology explored both the task and social aspects of work intrusions. The researchers also explored the negative and positive effects of such intrusions on job satisfaction. Respondents were surveyed over the course of 3 weeks, twice a day. They were asked about work intrusions, sense of belongingness, and job satisfaction. They were also asked about self-regulatory resource depletion (i.e., employees’ capacity for self-control that can be depleted under trying circumstances.)

The results revealed that work intrusions can have both positive and negative effects simultaneously on job satisfaction. The negative impact of work interruptions on job satisfaction may occur because of one’s limited supply of self-regulatory resources. However, on the positive side, work interruptions can increase job satisfaction because they contribute to the social aspect—increasing one’s sense of belonging at work. A sense of belonging appears to serve as a buffer to reduce the harmful effects of intrusions of job satisfaction.

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.