Once upon a time, I was the manager of a large training department at a psychological consulting firm. I loved some things about that position but other things… not so much. The thing I liked the least about that job was probably the commute. It was 45 minutes each way in no traffic and good weather but often took me about 2 hours in typical rush hour conditions.
But I knew that going in. My second least favorite aspect of my job was the constant interruptions from coworkers.
I didn’t mind it when they actually needed something from me in a work capacity — and especially something that they couldn’t figure out on their own. But when coworkers were interrupting me to ask about something they should be able to deal with on their own if they just put a little more critical thought into it, that drove me batty.
As did when they dropped by without warning to socialize when I had a tight work deadline (which I often did; I was very busy in that position).
I did the best I could. Sometimes this meant rejecting approaches and setting immediate boundaries. Other times this meant humoring them. There was always a balance.
But I noted that no matter what, it was always a stressful state of affairs. And I wasn’t alone. Talking to other folks who dealt with constant interruptions at the office, they felt a similar way.
Being Interrupted at Work Physically Stresses You Out
That’s why I wasn’t exactly surprised but quite validated after the fact when I stumbled upon today’s study. In it, they found that when participants were interrupted by coworkers they exhibited increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and an elevated heart rate, both physical indicators of a biological stress response.
And this biological stress response was found even in a group that subjectively thought they weren’t all that stressed.
It would seem that being interrupted at work physically stresses you out whether or not you register that consciously emotionally.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.