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Getting interrupted at work harms employee’s well-being

"Employees are not only temporarily frustrated with interruptions but suffer long-term consequences"
13 March 2019
Work interruptions are a typical stressor of today’s workplaces (photo: pexels.com)

Work interruptions are a typical stressor of today’s workplaces. They come in various forms such as e-mails, phone calls, colleagues seeking advice, colleagues visiting for a chat, or computer malfunctions. A recently published study in Work & Stress showed that these interruptions not only have negative consequences for performance but also immediate and long-term negative effects on employee well-being.

Researchers from the University of Groningen, University of Neuchâtel, and University of Bern used two large-scale longitudinal studies to investigate the effects of exposing employees to work interruptions. Work interruptions are events, situation or circumstances that delay the achievement of a goal. The results showed that interruptions were not only immediately related to job satisfaction and psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, sleep issues or back pain, but also over longer time periods (study 1 over 5 years, study 2 over 8 months). The researchers observed the strongest effects on job satisfaction and psychosomatic complaints if interruptions increased in frequency over the study period. This finding implies that employees find it challenging and effortful to find strategies to deal with continued interruptions.

“This is the first study showing that employees are not only temporarily frustrated with interruptions but suffer long-term consequences.” says Dr. Anita Keller from the University of Groningen. With the rise of new technologies and open plan offices, interruptions seem to continue to become more and more frequent, increasing the burden on employees to find ways to deal with these interruptions and focus on their tasks.

Further information

  • The article is “Please wait until I am done! Longitudinal effects of work interruptions on employee well-being” by Anita C. Keller, Laurenz L. Meier, Achim Elfering, and Norbert K. Semmer (https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2019.1579266). The article appears in Work & Stress.
  • Please contact Anita Keller (University of Groningen, The Netherlands; e-mail: a.c.keller@rug.nl) for more information.
Last modified:13 March 2019 12.20 p.m.

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