This side effect from being interrupted at work is one you would never expect

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There’s definitely nothing worse than getting interrupted while trying to explain something at work.

It comes in many forms. Maybe a fire alarm drill happens just as you’re about to make a big presentation; that’s a bummer — but most of the time, it comes from the know-it-all employees or the chatty boss that chine in just when you’re about to prove a point.

It’s frustrating to have the wind taken from your sails — interruptions, in general, cost companies money in the long run. But it does a lot more than that.

A new study by researchers in Switzerland found that workplace interruptions can lead to physical stress when workers are repeatedly interrupted at work.

The study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, explored stress at work caused from interruptions and the consequences it could have.

Researchers had 90 participants separated into three group office environments which were equipped with a chair and a computer. In this scenario, participants worked for an insurance company where they were to perform what’s expected in an office setting: filling out form, arranging appointments with prospective clients, and more tasks.

During each task, participants psychobiological responses were measured and they were asked to fill out questionnaires to rate their mood. Other books like a ECG device was used to measure heartbeat and saliva samples were collected to gauge stress hormone cortisol.

In these three groups, each group had a different level of stress it had to face. While all were assigned a similar workload, the researchers threw participants a curveball by hiring actors to act as HR representatives for the insurance company.

Although one group — the control group — had to perform less extensive tasks, the two other groups were where stress was measured. They were tasked with entertaining the possibility of a job promotion while completing the normal work at hand.

This is where things got murky. The two non-control groups had raised heart rates and released more cortisol in their saliva, but one of the groups measured higher levels of cortisol, according to researchers.

“Interestingly, the condition that experienced work interruptions showed a higher increase of cortisol levels but appraised the stress test as less threatening than individuals that experienced only psychosocial stress,” researchers wrote about the second group in the study. “Exploratory mediation analyses revealed a blunted response in subjective measures of stress, which was partially explained by the differences in threat appraisal.”

One of the surprising findings from the study is the role in which social interaction played a role in certainty and control. Researchers said increased engagement in chat systems helped produce better results in terms of stress, which researchers suggested could be due to the distraction it posed from focusing on the job interview.

It would be interesting to see how this study reads when including remote working. With tools such as Google Hangouts and Zoom calling for endless meetings, it may be why employees are starting to feel the stress of work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.