HR & Management

Multi-tasking can lead to multiple problems at work

4 min read

30 September 2015

Brits are doing too much multi-tasking, which is damaging their productivity as a result.

One billion working days are lost every year because companies are asking more employees to multi-task.

According to new poll of over 2,000 Brits, recruitment group Randstad revealed that 45 per cent said that they have to deal with more multi-tasking in their working lives than they did two or three years ago, compared to just 16 per cent who said they have to deal with less.

Randstad said multi-tasking was now a requirement of almost nine in every ten jobs with 89 per cent of Brits saying it was part of their role.

Jobs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London were the most likely to involve multi-tasking, doing two or three tasks at a time such as checking Twitter feeds, or emails whilst writing reports, while Cardiff and Sheffield were the least likely.

Randstad said employees taking on more than their allotted role was detrimental to their performance with most taking more than 20 minutes to regain their initial momentum following an interruption.

Randstad suggested that high flying employees who want to maintain their productivity could change their environment to move temptation further away – shutting down emails, closing Twitter and Facebook, and silencing phones.

Mark Bull, CEO of Randstad UK, said: “Going off-grid for half an hour will boost your productivity – it’s easier to concentrate when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings to check your phone or have a look at your Twitter feed. Alternatively, you can read reports, articles and other documents one after another. 

“Book in meetings back-to-back. And, if possible, try limiting email to two or three set times instead of responding to them the moment they arrive. Of course, that still won’t stop colleagues interrupting you – but it’s a start.”

The people interviewed as part of Randstad’s research reported being interrupted six times every day but only 33 per cent were using strategies to manage multitasking interruptions.

As a result the majority of employees are losing 120 minutes per day – or ten hours every week – to multi-tasking.

With 22.76m people currently working full-time in the UK, working approximately 253 days a year, Randstad calculated that the country’s permanent work force is now losing over 1bn working days’ worth of productivity every year as a result of multi-tasking.

“Multi-tasking is becoming an increasingly important part of people’s working lives – 70 per cent of employers tell us they regard it as important,” Bull added.

“That’s a problem because we all pay a cognitive price when we multi-task – we deplete our mental energy every time we jump from one activity to another – and that price is soaring as multi-tasking becomes more prevalent in the workplace. The consequences are surprisingly serious when you take into account the amount of time it takes us to regain our flow following another interruption.”

Bull went on to stress that staff are underestimating the damage that multi-tasking can have on their productivity and IQ.

He continued: “If they saw how it impaired their IQ and how much time they were losing when they drop everything and switch activities and had to restart tasks, people would be more likely to look for, and adopt, solutions – especially in top-end job markets like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London where the demands are largest. 

“The problem is employees don’t necessarily appreciate how hard multitasking can degrade their clarity of thought – its makes heavy demands on us.”