Multitasking in the Workplace Can Lead to Negative Emotions

Top image: characteristic facial snapshots of participant that shows a presence of mixed emotions. Bottom image: emotional co-occurrence results for the hour-long monitoring period. The matrix diagonal quantifies the presence of single emotions, while the off-diagonal elements of the matrix quantify the presence of mixed emotions.

From writing papers to answering emails, it’s common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once. But those constant interruptions can actually create sadness and fear and eventually, a tense working environment, according to a new study aimed at understanding what shapes the emotional culture of a workplace.

“Not only do people experience stress with multitasking, but their faces may also express unpleasant emotions and that can have negative consequences for the entire office culture,” said study senior author Ioannis Pavlidis, director of the Computational Physiology Laboratory at the University of Houston.

Pavlidis, along with Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine and Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna at Texas A&M University, used a novel algorithm, based on co-occurrence matrices, to analyze mixed emotions manifested on the faces of so-called knowledge workers amidst an essay writing task. One group of participants answered a single batch of emails in the beginning of their writing session, thus limiting the amount of distraction, while the other group was frequently interrupted to answer emails as they came in.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

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