Interruptions at work are inevitable, but how do they really affect us? While most people are concerned about their effects on productivity, the real danger comes from the stress they cause. Good news is that you can protect your health and well-being from unwanted, stress-inducing interruptions by simply implementing the following system.
A cost we can’t afford to pay
The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.” Stress and burnout related to the fast-paced digital world and the intensity of work tasks are on the rise globally.
Many of us now work in constantly connected, always-on, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread – Rich Fernandez, HBR.org
A recent survey that covered over 1,5 million employees in 4,500 companies across the globe found that approximately 75% of the workforce experience at least a moderate level of stress. Almost 35% of them reported feeling extremely stressed at work.
Although stress can be seen as a normal, natural reaction to external disturbing factors (like the stress felt while presenting a report, even if the numbers say you did a great job), extended stressful periods can be damaging. It can lead to health issues and sometimes depression. Given the fact that we face so much stress at work, we can’t afford to let interruptions affect us even more. But there’s good news here: interruptions are a factor we can control. Unlike other stress factors, it’s in our power to decide if and how much we allow people interrupt us both offline and online.
To get to that point, we need to take small steps towards a healthier, less stressful work environment, for our own well-being.
More speed, more stress
I recently came across this study – The cost of interrupted work – conducted by the Institute of Psychology at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Their results show that, surprisingly, interrupted work is performed faster.
If you think about it a bit, it makes a lot of sense. Parkinson’s law demonstrates that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. When people are constantly interrupted, they start working faster to compensate for the time lost. Not necessarily better, but faster. Deadlines are most of the time up to someone else, so people have to get creative and finish the task in whatever time they have.
But anyone who’s ever had to work harder after being interrupted knows that “productivity” is a short term gain and it comes at cost.
Researchers observed that higher work speed also means higher workload, more stress, increased frustration, more time pressure, and bigger effort. After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, the subjects of the study reported significantly higher levels of stress.
However, the study cannot conclude whether or not working with constant interruptions leads to the development of a coping mechanism or if stress simply keeps on increasing. The possibility of the latter is seriously alarming.
How can we create a better work environment
I recently wrote about the huge impact that even the smallest change for the better can have on your overall performance. For this, we need to create a system. The “system” includes even the tiniest improvement in the way you interact with others.
If people come to your desk, let them know that when you’re wearing your headphones, you’re focusing on something and you’d rather not be interrupted. Anything that resembles a traffic light system works just as well. The important thing is to let everyone know when your traffic light has turned red.
Nowadays, a lot of interruptions come via email, instant messaging apps or social media. With email and social media, it’s easy: simply sign out when there’s work to do (I know, it’s a necessary evil). With instant messages it’s more complicated, because we need to be there in case something urgent or extremely important needs our input.
At Hubgets, we have a presence feature that saves the day whenever we need to focus, don’t want to be disturbed and at the same time stay connected with the team. It’s called “Hubgets knows better” and it’s a presence option that uses an advanced algorithm based on the user’s activity. It can tell if the user is too busy to be interrupted or if they are available, and adjusts notifications accordingly minimizing noise.
Let’s say I’m logged in Hubgets, but I’m working intensely on something in a different browser window or in some program. Hubgets knows I’m busy based on my presence in the browser tab, so it will block distracting notifications, allowing me stay focused on my work. When I’m done, I can go back to Hubgets and pick up from where I left off when I started working. I won’t be missing out on anything, because Hubgets keeps track of all events that happened during my “absence”.
Support your peers
You’re not the only one fighting interruptions and the stress they cause. Most of the time, you can easily notice who else is struggling with the same problem as you. Yet, there are times when it’s hard to tell. That’s why it’s important to stay sensitive in your interactions with others.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle – Ian Maclaren
Pay attention to the way you interrupt them, what time you choose and whether or not they are performing a task that needs a lot of focus. If you can help them experience as little as 1% less stress, it can make a ton of difference to their personal well-being.