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Work place pauses? $588 bn loss annually!

January 09, 2006 18:28 IST

Interruptions consume 2.1 hours a day or 28 per cent of the workday and cost American economy $588 billion a year, a new survey shows.

The survey by Basex, an information technology research firm, found that the time lost for productivity included not only unimportant interruptions and distractions but also recovery time associated with getting back on the task.

The survey, being reported in the upcoming issue of Time magazine, was based on study of 1,000 office workers.

Estimating an average salary of $21 an hour for 'knowledge workers,' those who perform tasks involving information, Basex calculated that workplace interruptions cost the US economy $588 billion a year.

A team led by Gloria Mark and Victor Gonzalez of the University of California at Irvine tracked 36 office workers and found that the employees devoted an average of just 11 minutes to a project before the ping of an e-mail, the ring of the phone or a knock on the cubicle pulled them in another direction.

Once they were interrupted, it took, on average, 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they managed to do so at all that day, Time reports. Workers in the study were juggling an average of 12 projects apiece, a situation one subject described as 'constant, multitasking craziness.'

The five biggest causes of interruption in descending order, according to Gloria Mark of the University of California, were:

  • A colleague stopping by;
  • Worker being called away from the desk (or leaving voluntarily);
  • Arrival of new e-mail;
  • Worker doing another task on the computer; and
  • A phone call.

Over the past decade, psychiatrist Edward Hallowell has seen a tenfold rise in the number of patients with symptoms that closely resemble those of attention-deficit disorder, but of a work-induced variety.

"They complained that they were more irritable than they wanted to be. Their productivity was declining. They couldn't get organised."

Hallowell and his frequent collaborator, Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, believe that the neurochemistry of addiction may underlie the compulsive use of cell phones, computers and Blackberrys.

Psychologists call the increasingly common addiction to Web-based activity 'online compulsive disorder,' Hallowell calls it 'screen sucking.'

"I'm an obsessive and addicted multitasker and gadget user," Hollywood producer Jennifer Klein, whose credits include Pearl Harbor and Armageddon, tells Time.

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