The nature of work has been changing with, for example, dramatic increases in the occurrence of multitasking and interruptions at work. Both multitasking and interruptions are experienced as demands in the workplace which lead to strain for employees. Given this, it is important to understand the effect these working conditions have on the health and performance of employees. It is known that work interruptions and multitasking place high demands on working memory and attention, both of which decrease with age. Hence, it might be expected that any negative consequences of interruptions and multitasking will be exacerbated for older employees. This report explores these questions. The sample chosen was nursing staff because this information-intensive occupation is characterized by an especially high rate of work interruptions and multitasking demands. In a pilot study, interviews and observational job analyses were conducted to gain insight into the daily routine of nurses and to be able to make a first (objective) estimation of the type and frequency of interruptions and multitasking occurring. In the next step a diary study was completed. The subjects were surveyed with an electronic diary during their morning shift and in the evening. They were asked to answer questions about work demands, their well-being and their performance. The results show that work interruptions and multitasking reduce the quality of performance and increase the experience of strain - independently of the age of individuals. Consequently, measures must be taken either to reduce the occurrence of these stressors or to facilitate coping with the demands they create. To this end, health circles were conducted in three hospitals and proved an effective tool. A set of measures were developed to reduce work interruptions and evidence was found of changes in working conditions as a result of their use in health circles.
Please download the complete report "Effects of work interruptions and multitasking on productivity and health" (in German only).
A. Baethge, T. Rigotti:
Auswirkung von Arbeitsunterbrechungen und Multitasking auf Leistungsfähigkeit und Gesundheit.
1. edition. Dortmund: Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin 2013.
ISBN: 978-3-88261-714-6, pages 101, Project number: F 2220, paper, PDF file
© Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health