How much has technology changed the workplace? According to a recent Seattle Times article, quite a bit, but for the worker and productivity, all that new technology may not equal a change for the better.
It’s called “cognitive overload,” and, says the Times, it’s resulting in workers whose multitasking lives are making them distracted and stressed.
Multitasking itself may be the problem; according to the Times, research consistently shows that multitasking is counter-productive and even sometimes dangerous. But at work, it’s not only common, it’s expected and oftentimes unavoidable.
“Workers can turn the ringer off the phones, possibly close doors, auto-filter e-mail, and personalize search engines, and ask people to honor privacy, but blocking out sacred time segments or sealing ourselves off from outside contact, even e-mail, isn’t a real option with most organizations,” David Kirsh, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California-San Diego, told the Times.
According to Gloria Mark, a professor at University of California-Irvine who has been studying the effects of multitasking on workers, the average employee focuses for a maximum stretch of 12 minutes, switches to a different task every three minutes, and gets interrupted every two minutes.
While experts battle over whether technology is directly the culprit or just a contributor, solving the problem of distracted workers may be found in ergonomics: making the job, task and technology more suited to meet the capabilities of the worker. As is the case with the cell phone, which research is now saying can cause driver distraction regardless of whether it’s a hands-free or hands-on model, just because the technology exists to allow a person to perform multiple tasks at once, that doesn’t mean that a person is capable of processing all of the information required to effectively, safely and productively use the technology.
Sources: Seattle Times; More Than One Way to Develop an MSD. The Ergonomics Report, August 15, 2004.