A study led by Simon Fraser University and published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior has found that as digital technology advances, many workers report a growing sense of autonomy stemming from the control they have of when, where, and which messages they respond to. But the experience shows both loving and loathing.
Workers who use mobile technology to actively connect with colleagues experience higher levels of communication effectiveness and report better work performance. Paradoxically, workers also reported that interruptions from these same technologies impaired their performance - technology giveth, and technology taketh away.
The crux of this paradox, known as the productivity paradox, seems to lay around the idea of self-determination for employees, who value feeling in control of their time. Making yourself available to support others is a choice you make, and increases this positive sense of autonomy. Employees who make themselves available exchange messages more effectively, and also benefit from the support of others. The challenge comes when interruptions come from coworkers, as these are outside the employee’s control, and may derail the employee when they were focusing on their work and making good progress.
“I think what is new about this study is that we know better what the good and the bad parts are of being connected to work all the time,” says study lead Lieke ten Brummelhuis, a professor in SFU’s Beedie School of Business. Her study addresses the love/hate relationship that comes with being constantly connected to our smartphones.
“With all the technology we have now, you are able to make active decision whether you are available for others – and that is actually good because you feel in control and you can be more effective in how you communicate. At the same time, you need to be vigilant that interruptions are not keeping you from other tasks.”
Another interesting relationship the study uncovered is the relationship between availability, interruptions and the giving or receiving of instrumental support. People who make themselves available are more likely to receive instrumental support from colleagues, and people who experience interruptions are more likely to provide the support.
It seems that control over communication is a critical aspect of autonomy in the workplace. Technology empowers workers by giving them control over where and when they connect. But this flexibility allows for constant interruptions by a barrage of incoming messages, which can lead to frustration.
“I think with this research, it's really important to keep in mind that what works for you might not work for every single individual because everyone is different,” says ten Brummelhuis. “But the main advice that probably will work for everyone is to set aside some time each day that you can dedicate to a single task and not be interrupted.”
Luckily there is a solution. Some software like Microsoft Teams allows you to set uninterrupted work time. So if you have something to focus on, it’s recommended you use it.
Journal of Vocational Behavior
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Staying in the loop: Is constant connectivity to work good or bad for work performance?