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Instant messaging (IM) technologies are being rapidly deployed in the workplace. Current studies largely focus on the adoption of IM and how IM is used. Little research has been conducted to understand the potential impact of using IM in the workplace. This paper theorizes and empirically tests how the frequency of IM interruptions and the position power of message sender could interact with an individual’s polychronic orientation, that is, multitasking preference, and jointly influence employee satisfaction and subjective task complexity. The present study illustrates that polychronic knowledge workers are more satisfied with the multitasking work process deploying IM technology than monochronic ones. In addition, the effect of interruptions is dependent upon an individual’s polychronic orientation. The increase in interruption frequency only reduces the process satisfaction of monochronic individuals but not polychronic individuals. Further, the polychronic orientation of message receivers also influences how they process information. When IM messages are sent from their supervisors, monochronic individuals tend to prioritize tasks and perceive a lower level of overall task complexity. The information processing of polychronic individuals seem to be less influenced by the position power of message sender.
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Exploring the impact of instant messaging on
subjective task complexity and user satisfaction
Han Li
Ashish Gupta
Xin Luo
Merrill Warkentin
School of Business, Minnesota State University
Moorhead, Moorhead, MN, U.S.A.;
School of Management, The University of New
Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, U.S.A.;
College of
Business, Mississippi State University, Mississippi
State, MS, U.S.A.
Correspondence: Xin Luo, Anderson School
of Management, The University of New
Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, U.S.A.
Tel: þ1 (505) 277 8875;
Received: 19 October 2009
Revised: 3 June 2010
2nd Revision: 3 October 2010
3rd Revision: 30 October 2010
Accepted: 1 November 2010
Instant messaging (IM) technologies are being rapidly deployed in the
workplace. Current studies largely focus on the adoption of IM and how IM
is used. Little research has been conducted to understand the potential impact
of using IM in the workplace. This paper theorizes and empirically tests how the
frequency of IM interruptions and the position power of message sender could
interact with an individual’s polychronic orientation, that is, multitasking
preference, and jointly influence employee satisfaction and subjective task
complexity. The present study illustrates that polychronic knowledge workers
are more satisfied with the multitasking work process deploying IM technology
than monochronic ones. In addition, the effect of interruptions is dependent
upon an individual’s polychronic orientation. The increase in interruption
frequency only reduces the process satisfaction of monochronic individuals but
not polychronic individuals. Further, the polychronic orientation of message
receivers also influences how they process information. When IM messages are
sent from their supervisors, monochronic individuals tend to prioritize tasks and
perceive a lower level of overall task complexity. The information processing of
polychronic individuals seem to be less influenced by the position power of
message sender.
European Journal of Information Systems (2011) 20, 139–155.
Keywords: instant messaging; interruption frequency; polychronicity; monochronicity;
user satisfaction; perceived task complexity
Instant messaging (IM), the most popular incarnation of near-synchronous
computing text chat technology among recreational users and teenagers
(Grinter & Palen, 2002), is being ushered into the workplace. A recent
survey found that one-third of computer users utilize IM at work to keep
connected with co-workers and/or clients (Garrett & Danziger, 2007).
Further, it was estimated that there would be 250 million IM accounts,
inclusive of business accounts, by year 2010 (Gantz et al., 2007). With its
functionality for interaction and ‘outeraction’ (Nardi et al., 2000), IM not
only supports informal communication in the workplace where email,
phone and fax are already extensively adopted, but also facilitates some of
the processes that make evasive enterprise-wide information sharing
possible (Luo et al., 2010). The widespread deployment of IM in the
workplace is attributed to key attributes of IM such as synchronous response
and immediate presence awareness and event notification. In essence,
presence notification/awareness feature allows employees to find out
who (i.e., internal and/or external business constituents) are online and
available for instantaneous communication. Messages sent out over the IM
European Journal of Information Systems (2011) 20, 139 –155
&2011 Operational Research Society Ltd. All rights reserved 0960-085X/11
platform are more likely to elicit a response in a real-time
manner, and a near-synchronous communication could
be established among multiple communication parties.
As IM presents a revolution in enterprise communication,
many organizations are leveraging IM as a valuable tool
to improve inter-organizational collaboration and work
scheduling (Quan-Haase et al., 2005). In addition, some
firms have integrated IM into their IT infrastructure in
order to build a sense of social presence and community,
diminish transactional distance, and reduce the potential
for misunderstanding as well as create a multitasking
work environment (Cummings, 2004; Cameron & Webster,
2005; Rennecker & Godwin, 2005).
Initial efforts in academia have been devoted to
studying the application, adoption and potential con-
sequences of IM in the workplace (Cameron & Webster,
2005; Li et al., 2005; Garrett & Danziger, 2007; Luo et al.,
2010). As prior studies have found that the deployment
of IM in the workplace may raise concerns about the
potential detrimental effects on organizational commu-
nications, much attention to date has focused on under-
standing the impact of IM on the level of interruptions in
the workplace (Cummings, 2004; Rennecker & Godwin,
2005; Garrett & Danziger, 2007). In particular, Rennecker
& Godwin (2005) found that unstructured IM use may
increase communicative workload and interruptions
because such IM features as a pop-up notification window
and pressure for users to respond in a multitasking
work environment may raise the level of workload of
employees, thereby reducing their job satisfaction.
These prior studies have only provided partial under-
standing of the consequences of IM communication due
to the lack of consideration of the personal characteristics
of IM users and the social context of IM communications
such as the position power of the message sender. Gupta
& Li (2008) called for understanding the effect of IM
interruptions in the social context of the communica-
tion. They primarily focused on the objective perfor-
mance of the main task, suggesting that IM messages sent
from the supervisor have greater negative consequence
on the quality of the main task performed by the message
receiver than those from the co-worker.
Our study responds to the call for examining the
interruptive impact of IM within its social context, but
focuses on users’ perception of overall task complexity
and their satisfaction with the multitasking work process.
We posit that the position power of a message sender may
influence the multitasking priority of message recipients
and further adjust their cognitive perception of the task
complexity. At the same time, drawing upon theoretical
perspectives from social psychology (Bluedorn et al.,
1999; Frei et al., 1999; Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist,
1999) and organizational behavior (Slocombe & Bluedorn,
1999; Conte & Jacobs, 2003; Conte & Gintoft, 2005; Hecht
& Allen, 2005), the present study further extends this body
of research by incorporating polychronicity, one type of
personal characteristic, into task perception and satisfac-
tion in organization communications. Polychronicity
reflects an individual’s time management orientation and
is the individual’s preference to switch among multiple
tasks within the same time period (Bluedorn et al., 1999).
It is contrasted with monochronicity, a preference for
focusing on only one thing at a time. Neo & Skoric (2009)
called attention to the importance of polychronicity in
examining IM communication although their study did
not find a significant relationship between polychronicity
and students’ preference for social interactions over IM. In
this study, we believe that the introduction of polychro-
nicity has clear relevance to understanding the impact of
IM, given the nature of multitasking work environment
employing IM as a supplementary means of communica-
tion. This study also provides insights to practitioners in
organizations deploying IM technology. We suggest that
understanding process satisfaction provides pragmatic
insights into whether employees will accept IM technology
in a voluntary setting and, perhaps more importantly,
help management decide whether and how to deploy
IM successfully in the workplace to increase employee
This paper reports on an empirical study that aimed
to reveal how IM influences users’ perceived task
complexity and satisfaction about the multitasking work
process. Synthesizing relevant prior research, we postu-
late that polychronicity, together with the interruptions
and position power of message senders, influences
message recipients’ perceived task complexity and satis-
faction. Our approach breaks new ground for IM research
because it takes into account the interruptive nature of
IM, personal factors, and social network characteristics.
Three key research questions drove this study: (1) How
do interruptions from IM influence users’ perceived task
complexity and satisfaction? (2) How does polychronicity
of IM users influence their perceived task complexity
and satisfaction? (3) How does polychronicity moderate
the impact of the position power of message senders and
interruptions on IM users’ perceived task complexity or
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. We
first review the literature and propose our research model
and hypotheses underlying the model. Then we describe
our experiment, followed by a discussion of the findings
of this study. Next, we present implications for theory
and practice derived from these results. The paper
concludes with the limitations of the study and guidance
for future research.
Time, complexity and satisfaction in multitasking
The deployment of IM engenders a multitasking work
environment. Knowledge workers often perform some
main or primary tasks while responding to IM inter-
ruption messages. An individual’s multitasking pre-
ference (i.e., polychronicity vs monochronicity) is
expected to play a role in shaping his or her task
perceptions and satisfaction with the multitasking
work process. In addition, IM technologies incorporate
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al140
European Journal of Information Systems
built-in awareness features that often contribute to
higher expectations that recipients will respond imme-
diately, which may increase the interruptive nature of
IM. To achieve a better understanding of the impact of
IM on users’ perceived task complexity and satisfaction
with the multitasking work process, it is necessary to
integrate the literature of interruption and polychronic
communication. In the following subsections, we will
first discuss the subjective task complexity and process
satisfaction as the dependent variables of our model.
Then, we will give an overview of the theoretical
foundations of interruption and polychronic commu-
nication and elaborate the impact of interruptions and
polychronicity on subjective task complexity and user
satisfaction with the multitasking work process and
their potential interactions considering the position
power of message senders.
Subjective task complexity
Tas k co mplex it y has been examined from two perspec-
tives, objective task complexity and subjective task
complexity. In this study, we examine subjective task
complexity as one of the dependent variables. Subjec-
tive task complexity is the level of task complexity
perceived by employees. Instead of examining objective
task complexity directly, we use subjective task com-
plexity as a proxy for objective task complexity as
subjective task complexity reflects objective task com-
plexity. Moreover, to a certain extent, task complexity is
a concept relative to the cognitive processing capacity
of specific individuals. There is no completely objective
measure for how complex a task might be. In fact,
subjective task complexity is often used as a manipula-
tion check for objective task complexity in experimen-
tal studies (Kernan et al., 1994; Maynard & Hakel, 1997).
In addition, recent studies also suggest that subjective
task complexity could exert additional influence on
task performance beyond that of objective task com-
plexity, and the effect of objective task complexity is
partially mediated through subjective task complexity
(Maynard & Hakel, 1997). Therefore, it is important to
examine subjective task complexity as a focal variable.
In this study, we examine how interruptions and
polychronic communication influence subjective task
complexity and how subjective task complexity further
influences user satisfaction. A task could be made more
complex by adjusting objective task features such as
increasing the amount and/or diversity of information
processed (Earley, 1985). IM messages increase the
volume of information available to knowledge workers.
IM interruptions are expected to play a role in influen-
cing IM users’ subjective task complexity. Besides
objective task features, the perceived level of task
complexity was also found to be influenced by indivi-
dual characteristics such asprevioustaskexperience
and personal task motivation, etc. (Maynard & Hakel,
Process satisfaction
Process satisfaction is one type of user satisfaction and
defined as users’ satisfaction with the multitasking
work process in this study. User satisfaction is an
important determinant of users’ usage of information
system and system performance (Gelderman, 1998). To
attain a better understanding of how advanced informa-
tion technologies that organizations use in social inter-
action trigger satisfaction amid their resources (i.e.,
employees), we hereby refer to Adaptive Structuration
Theory (AST) to describe the process by which people
incorporate advanced technologies into their work
practices. Once applied, technologies should trigger
structural change in terms of productivity, efficiency,
and satisfaction to individuals and organizations
(DeSanctis & Poole, 1994). As group outcomes reflect
the manner in which groups appropriate the structures of
the technology and the context of its use, AST indicates
that the structural change can be captured in inter-
personal interaction at micro, global, and institutional
levels. In essence, AST posits that when technologies
are enacted or appropriated, there is always the possibi-
lity that social structures will change in organizations.
Then, at the individual level, organizational users may
change their awareness, knowledge, power, motivations,
circumstances, and satisfaction. In an AST context, the
use of group-wise systems such as IM can be depicted as
an input-process-output process where the technological
appropriation may lead to users’ satisfaction with out-
come and process (Gopal et al., 1993).
Furthermore, process satisfaction has been found to be
influenced by tasks characteristics and medium types.
For example, Suh (1999) investigated the effect of two
types of tasks (intellective tasks vs negotiation tasks)
and four different communication media (text, audio,
video, and face-to-face). Intellective tasks involve solving
problems to which there exists a single obviously correct
answer whereas negotiation tasks do not have such single
correct solution. He found that process satisfaction was
higher for intellective tasks than for negotiation tasks and
that face-to-face communication yielded higher level of
process satisfaction than other communication medium
types. In this study, we examine how process satisfaction
is influenced by the frequency of interruption (one type
of objective characteristics of interruptive IM tasks),
subjective task complexity and a person’s multitasking
orientation (i.e., polychronicity).
Though interruptions have been defined in several
different ways (see Corragio, 1990, p. 19; Jett & George,
2003; Speier et al., 2003, p. 772), for the purpose of
this study, interruptions are defined as incidents or
occurrences that impede or delay organizational
members’ progress on work tasks (Jett & George, 2003).
The timing of an interruption is usually random and
beyond the control of a recipient. It breaks the attention
of the message recipient and typically requires immediate
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al 141
European Journal of Information Systems
switching from the main task to the interruption task.
Main tasks and interruption tasks compete for the limited
cognitive processing resources of an individual. Interrup-
tions could change knowledge workers’ task priority
and the way in which they process information and
make decisions.
Figure 1 describes the process of interruption. When an
IM message arrives, a worker must switch from a current
work medium to the IM medium. This switching time,
is usually small and is a non-value added, is often
referred to as interruption lag (Trafton et al., 2003). After
processing the IM request, the worker has to spend
extra non-value added time to restart a task due to re-
immersion. The recovery time due to interruptions
caused by IM is referred to as resumption lag (Trafton
et al., 2003) or penalty. Although unknown for an IM
interruption, this penalty has been reported to be about
64 s per email interruption ( Jackson et al., 2001, 2003).
According to these findings, although this time frame
may appear to be small but the cumulative interruption
and resumption lags may become significant due to
the large number of messages arriving on a daily basis.
These lags have the potential to increase the non-value-
added time of a knowledge worker, decrease the knowl-
edge worker’s time-effectiveness, and potentially increase
the time needed to complete the primary task. A recent
study conducted by Gupta & Sharda (2008) revealed
that a knowledge worker may lose 4–5% of their workday
due to interruptions from arriving messages. As such, a
knowledge worker may lose on an average 28 min out
of a 10-h workday. When an IM message arrives, the
knowledge worker is preempted from a primary task.
After spending a small switching time, the worker starts
to process the IM request. Once the processing on the IM
is over, workers spend a small recall time (RL) before they
can resume their previously interrupted task.
The effect of interruptions has been examined from
multiple dimensions in previous studies. Speier et al.
(1999) investigated the effect of frequency and content
relevancy of interruptions on task performance. They
found that interruptions facilitate performance on
simple tasks and decrease performance on complex tasks.
The negative impact of interruptions on complex tasks
was more severe when the content of the interruption
was dissimilar to the primary task. Beyond the body of
prior investigations, our study focused on the frequency
and social characteristics of interruptions. We compared
the effects of low interruption frequency with high
interruption frequency on perceived task complexity
and user satisfaction. For social characteristics of the
interruption, we examined the effect of position power
of senders on perceived task complexity. Speier et al.
(1999) suggested that social characteristics of an inter-
rupter, such as his or her status or position power
may influence the way the interruption message is
processed (and responded to). For example, message
recipients are likely to give a higher priority to messages
from a supervisor than from co-workers or peers (Gross
et al., 2006). As a result, they could spend less effort and
process fewer information cues in the main task. Since
few studies have examined the interruptions from a social
perspective, we posit that the effect of interruptions
should be investigated in the context of social ties
between message sender and recipient. The position
power of message sender may interact with the effect of
interruptions on the way tasks are processed and
perceived. Interruption messages generated by a super-
visor may have different impact on receivers’ perceived
task complexity from messages by a peer or co-worker.
Time has long been considered as a fundamental concept
in explaining organizational behaviors (Cummings &
Staw, 1995). Recently, polychronicity, as an individual’s
time management orientation, is gaining growing
research attention. Polychronicity was originally intro-
duced by Hall (1959) as a cultural-level construct,
reflecting organizational members’ shared preference
for time-use. Employees in an organization may share
a common polychronic culture. Unlike monochronic
cultures, polychronic cultures spend more time socializ-
ing and are less concerned with deadlines, structure,
and time (Hall, 1983). Individuals in polychronic culture
were found to be less concerned with download delay
of websites than those from monochronic culture
(Rose et al., 2003). Since the 1990s, polychronicity
has also been examined as an individual-level variable
(Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999; Slocombe &
Bluedorn, 1999). At individual level, polychronicity is
proposed to be an individual difference personality
characteristic (Conte & Gintoft, 2005). Individuals could
be classified, based on the level of polychronicity, along a
IM Arrives
Interruption Lag +
IM Processing
IM Sent
Primary Task Processing
(Before Preemption)
Primary Task Processing
(After Preemption)
Figure 1 The process of interruption (Trafton et al., 2003).
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al142
European Journal of Information Systems
continuum from very monochronic to very polychronic
(Slocombe & Bluedorn, 1999; Conte & Jacobs, 2003).
Monochronic individuals prefer to work on one activity
in the same time block while polychronic individuals
prefer to work on multiple activities over the same period
of time (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999).
Individual polychronic time-use may take two forms.
One form is to perform multiple tasks simultaneously
(Ofori-Dankwa & Julian, 2001). Simultaneous multitask-
ing is more amenable for tasks using different sensory
modalities or body parts than those using the same
sensory modalities (Pashler, 1998). For example, it is
easier for a knowledge worker to read an IM message
and listen to a phone call than to read both the IM
message and a business report at the same time. The
second form involves switching between tasks over a
period of time (Bluedorn et al., 1999), such as writing a
report while responding to IM messages. Prior studies
on polychronicity are largely oriented toward the task-
switching form of time-use (Bluedorn et al., 1999; Arndt
et al., 2006). In this study, we followed the main body
of studies on polychroncity and examined polychronicity
as an individual’s tendency to switch among multiple
Individual-level polychronicity has been linked to a
number of work and non-work activities. For example,
polychronicity has been found to be negatively related
to preferences for following schedules and deadlines
(Benabou, 1999) and positively related to absence (Conte
& Jacobs, 2003). Here, although polychronic individuals
are less preferred to follow schedules and deadlines
than monochronic individuals, it does not suggest that
all or most of their tasks are not done on time. At the
same time, polychronicity is positively correlated with
creativity (Bluedorn et al, 1999). Polychronic individuals
also treat interpersonal relations as important as the
work to be performed while monochronic individuals
are suggested to devote more to one particular task than
to interpersonal communication (Benabou, 1999). Hall &
Hall (1990) also suggested that polychronicity involves
the ability to handle interruptions. For polychronic
individuals, time is not considered as a tangible resource
and timely completion of tasks is not a major concern
for them. Previous studies have also examined the effect
of polychronicity on job performance with inconsistent
results (Conte & Gintoft, 2005; Hecht & Allen, 2005;
Konig et al., 2005). For example, in a task context
emphasizing punctuality, schedules, and deadlines, such
as the train operator job, polychronic employees received
lower supervisory ratings of their performance. In a
multitasking retail environment, polychronic salesper-
sons received higher subjective ratings of sales perfor-
mance from their supervisors (Conte & Gintoft, 2005).
However, polychronicity was insignificant for predicting
objective multitasking performance based on the correct-
ness and speed of answers (Konig et al., 2005). In general,
polychronicity is not considered to be a good predictor of
task performance (Hecht & Allen, 2005). ‘Polychronicity
is about how work is done, not about how much work is
done’ (Slocombe & Bluedorn, 1999, p. 77). Polychronic
individuals do not necessarily work any faster than
monochronic ones (Hecht & Allen, 2005). Therefore,
polychronicity, as a personal trait, primarily determines
how time is allocated to multiple tasks rather than
how quickly those tasks are done. For this reason, we
will examine the effect of polychronicity on IM users’
task perceptions and satisfaction instead of the effect
on actual task performance. The following subsection
presents our research model and theoretical underpin-
ning of each of the hypotheses.
Drawing upon interruption and polychronic communi-
cation (i.e., polychronic/monochronic) literatures, our
research model (Figure 2) depicts how the interruptive
features of IM communication may intertwine with
polychronicity and jointly influence users’ perception
of task complexity and satisfaction with the multitas-
king work process. Specifically, the study proposes that
(1) perceived task complexity increases with interrup-
tion frequency but decreases for monochronic emp-
loyees receiving IM interruptive messages from their
supervisors, and (2) process satisfaction increases with
employees’ polychronic orientation but decreases for
monochronic employees facing increasing level of inter-
ruption frequency.
Direct effects of interruption frequency Prior studies have
suggested that a task could be made more complex by
increasing the number of information cues and/or the
diversity of information processed (Earley, 1985). Simple
tasks require processing fewer cues than complex tasks.
Position Power of
Message Sender
Frequency Perceived
IM experience
Prior task experience
Task motivation
H4 (a, b)
H3 (a, b)
Figure 2 Research model.
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al 143
European Journal of Information Systems
In a context of IM communication, more frequent IM
interruptions increase the number of information cues
to be processed by knowledge workers and are very likely
to increase their subjective task complexity. Perceived
overall task complexity could further increase in a
multitasking work environment involving both IM
tasks and primary tasks. IM interruptive tasks diversify
the information processed, requiring additional proces-
sing effort for switching between tasks. Therefore,
H1: Interruption frequency has a positive impact on
perceived task complexity.
Effects of polychronicity and interruption frequency Poly-
chronicity refers to an individual’s tendency to be
involved in two or more tasks simultaneously (Conte &
Gintoft, 2005). Polychronicity is a fairly stable personal
trait (Turner et al., 2006). Individuals with low poly-
chronicity prefer to complete one task at one time,
whereas those with high polychronicity prefer to do
several tasks simultaneously. The literature on polychro-
nicity emphasizes the fit between an individual’s poly-
chronic orientation and task. Monochronic individuals
may become disoriented in a multitasking work environ-
ment and were found to be more bothered by interrup-
tions than polychronic individuals (Frei et al., 1999). The
congruence between polychronic orientation and task
setting could increase the perceived fairness of the work
process and, therefore, enhances the knowledge workers’
satisfaction with the work process.
The deployment of IM in the workplace engenders
a multitasking work environment. ‘A majority of IM users
say they do other things on their computer and online
at the same time they are participating in IM sessions.
32% adult IM users report that they multitask all the
time; 29% admit they do this some of the time’ (Shiu &
Lenhart, 2004). Those individuals with a low polychronic
orientation will have a hard time switching between tasks
and will be less satisfied with using IM while performing a
main task. Therefore,
H2: Polychronic individuals are more satisfied with multi-
tasking work process than monochronic individuals.
Beyond the direct effect of polychronicity, using the
concept of task employee fit, we also propose that
polychronic orientation moderates the effect of interrup-
tions on the two dependent variables. Monochronic
individuals prefer to concentrate on one activity at a
time and view multitasking as fragmented, confusing,
stressful, and lacking focus (Conte et al., 1999). The
increase in interruption frequency of IM messages is
expected to reduce their satisfaction with the work
process. Conversely, polychronic individuals prefer to
switch between tasks and perceive polychronic behavior
as efficient and motivating (Conte et al., 1999). They feel
satisfied in a multitasking environment such as the one
with interruptions. However, no studies have examined
how interruption frequency may influence their satisfac-
tion with the work process. Clearly, under extremely high
level of interruptions far beyond an individual’s mental
processing capacity, a polychronic individual also expects
to suffer reduced satisfaction with the workplace process.
The effect of extremely high level of interruptions is
beyond the scope of this study. In this study, we choose
to examine low vs relatively high level of interruption
frequency as typically observed in a regular work setting.
At a low to relatively high level of interruption frequency,
a polychronic individual expects to achieve or sustain
an overall high level of process satisfaction. The increase
in interruption frequency from low level to relatively
high level may have little enhancement effect on the
overall high level of process satisfaction. Therefore,
H3a: Polychronicity moderates the relationship between
interruption frequency and users’ satisfaction with
multitasking work process such that, for monochronic
individuals, interruption frequency has a negative
impact on users’ satisfaction with multitasking work
H3b: Polychronicity moderates the relationship between
interruption frequency and users’ satisfaction with
multitasking work process such that, for polychronic
individuals, interruption frequency has no impact on
users’ satisfaction with multitasking work process.
Effects of polychronicity and position power of message
sender Besides interruption frequency, we also exam-
ined the effect of polychronicity and the position power
of message senders, as one type of social characteristics
of interruptions, on subjective task complexity. It is
necessary to consider the social context of the multi-
tasking work process, which could potentially determine
the processing strategies adopted by monochronic and
polychronic individuals. In the literature of polychronic
communication, monochronic individuals ‘lean more
toward strict planning, time allocation, and prioritizing
in attempting to meet their obligations’ (Kaufman-
Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999, p. 289). When mono-
chronic individuals are under the time pressure to process
interruption messages from their supervisors, they are
expected to prioritize tasks and give a higher priority to
IM tasks to meet their immediate obligations to their
supervisor. As a result, when message senders are their
supervisors, monochronic individuals may use a heuristic
approach to work on the main tasks or process fewer
information cues of the main tasks. The heuristic
processing of the main task is likely to cause mono-
chronic individuals to perceive the overall task to be less
complex. In other words, interruptive IM messages from
supervisors may reduce the overall task complexity
perceived by monochronic individuals. On the other
hand, to the extent that interruptions from peers would
not be given a priority as high as those from supervisors
(Gross et al., 2006), message receivers are less likely to use
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al144
European Journal of Information Systems
a heuristic approach to process the main task. The
completion of both the main task and interruption
tasks in full attention is likely to drain their mental
capability and increase their perceived task complexity.
In contrast, polychronic individuals do not view time
as a tangible resource (Slocombe & Bluedorn, 1999) and
are less concerned about deadlines (Hall, 1983). There-
fore, they are less pressured to prioritize tasks. They
attempt to seek a balance between multiple tasks. The
interruption messages from peer and supervisor are
very likely to be handled in a similar way. Hence,
position power has no or weak impact on task complexity
when message receivers have high polychronicity.
H4a: Polychronicity moderates the relationship between
position power and perceived task complexity such
that, for monochronic individuals, position power of
message senders reduces perceived task complexity.
H4b: Polychronicity moderates the relationship between
position power and perceived task complexity such
that, for polychronic individuals, position power of
message sender has no impact on perceived task
Perceived task complexity and process satisfaction In this
study, we are interested in process satisfaction, which
reflects users’ satisfaction with the working process
deploying IM (i.e., responding to IM interruptions
while working on a main task). According to Suh
(1999, p. 302), ‘efficient and effective processes will result
in higher process satisfaction’. The interruptions of IM
messages incur additional switching time that is not
productive. When tasks are perceived to be complex,
more information cues and/or interrelationships among
cues would need to be recalled for switching between
IM tasks and the main tasks. As a result, longer non-
productive switching time is needed to process complex
tasks, which reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of
the work process and, therefore, may lower knowledge
workers’ satisfaction with the interruptive working
process using IM. So we hypothesize that
H5: Perceived task complexity reduces users’ satisfaction
with multitasking work process.
Besides the above independent variables, the research
model consists of four control variables: gender, IM
experience, prior task experiences, and task motivation.
Gender has been found to influence polychronic
tendency with females being more polychronic than
males (Manrai & Manrai, 1995). Gender may directly
influence an individual’s information processing stra-
tegy and his/her perceived task complexity. Further,
prior experience with the technology, that is, IM,
may influence an individual’s process satisfaction and
perceived task complexity. More experience with IM may
improve an individual’s process satisfaction and reduce
his or her perceived task complexity. Also, an individual’s
task experience and motivation to perform the task is
likely to influence his or her perceived task complexity.
Maynard & Hakel (1997) suggest that higher levels of
task motivation and task experience were significantly
associated with higher levels of subjective task complex-
ity. These four variables were controlled for both
dependent variables.
Research method
Study design and procedures
An experimental design was deployed to manipulate
the two characteristics of interruptions: interruption
frequency and position power of the message sender.
In contrast with the study by Speier et al. (1999), task
similarity was not manipulated in our study. The main
task and interruptive tasks (i.e., IM tasks) were dissimilar
with the degree of dissimilarity being the same or
controlled for all subjects. Interruption frequency was
manipulated at two levels: low interruption and high
interruption. Subjects received one IM message at low
interruption level and four IM messages at high inter-
ruption level. Mark (2006) reports that one interruption
every three minutes is a high level of task interruption.
In our experiment, the total task time (i.e., primary task
time þinterruptive IM task time) of subjects in the
high interruption group averaged 14 min (with 23 min as
the maximum length). Four interruptions in 14 min
equate to one interruption every three and half minutes,
which is comparable to the high level of interruptions
reported by Mark (2006) . In the Data Analysis section
below, the result of the manipulation check on interrup-
tion level also statistically verified that the high inter-
ruption level differed from and exerted greater impact
than the low interruption level. The position power
of message sender was manipulated at two levels: peer
and supervisor. Thus, these two manipulated variables
jointly form four treatment conditions.
Subjects were randomly assigned to only one of four
treatment conditions. A printed task page was used to
introduce the task scenario to subjects and provide
detailed step-by-step instructions. Each subject assumed
the role of a knowledge worker working on a group
project that aimed to improve the supply chain of a
company. The subject was instructed to work on a main
task and, at the same time, be ready to respond to IM
messages sent from his or her project member (peer) or
project manager (supervisor) depending on which group
he/she was assigned to. The main task and interruptive
IM tasks are dissimilar. The main task was to browse
the websites of UPS and U.S. Postal Service and search for
shipping costs of two different packages to a warehouse
(Appendix A). So each subject was asked to search for
four shipping costs. When subjects were performing
the search tasks, they were interrupted by IM messages.
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European Journal of Information Systems
The IM application used in this study is Yahoo!
Messenger, which allows the researcher to send a message
to multiple recipients at the same time. All interruption
messages were sent out by researchers. Each subject was
involved in dyadic communication (i.e., only interacting
with the imaginary peer or supervisor). The IM messages
requested the subjects to compare eight suppliers based
on account payable term, delivery time, or product
costs. The information of the eight suppliers was
provided in a printed table adopted from Laudon &
Laudon (2007) (Appendix B). Subjects were instructed to
respond to IM messages once they received them.
Appendix C shows the questions that were sent through
IM to interrupt the subjects. Each interruptive IM task
took an average of 36 s to be completed with a standard
deviation of 31 s. The design of IM task is consistent with
the typical usage profile of IM (i.e., used for short, simple,
and quick communications) identified by previous
studies (Cameron & Webster, 2005; Hung et al., 2008).
After searching for the shipping costs and entering the
results in an EXCEL worksheet, subjects were required to
fill out an online survey. No time constraints were
imposed on the time spent in searching for shipping
Data collection
Student volunteers at a major northern U.S. university
were used as the subjects for our lab experiment. They
were recruited from core business classes required for
students in their junior or senior years. All subjects
were volunteers and received less than 1% extra credit
for participation. In all, 112 usable responses (50 females
and 62 males) were included in our final data analysis.
The age of the subjects ranges from 19 to 39 years with
an average age of 23 years and standard deviation of 0.32.
There are 26 responses in each of the two treatment
conditions using peers as message senders (i.e., low
interruption and peer, high interruption and peer) and
30 responses in each of the two treatment conditions
using supervisors as message senders (i.e., low interrup-
tion and supervisor, high interruption and supervisor).
Variable measurement
All latent constructs in the research model were measured
using existing validated scales (Appendix D). Some items
were slightly adapted to reflect the research context.
Perceived task complexity and task motivation were
measured using the instruments by Maynard & Hakel
(1997). Polychronicity orientation was measured using
the scales by Conte & Jacobs (2003). Process satisfaction
was modified from the instruments by Green & Taber
(1980). Perceived work overload was adapted from the
instruments by Moore (2000), which was used to check
the manipulation on interruption. A single question
(‘Mr. Smith’ that I just interacted with has higher
position power than I have) was developed to check
whether the manipulation on the position power of
message senders was successful. All these items were
measured on a five-point Likert scale with 1 being
strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Gender,
IM experience, and prior task experience were each
measured using a single item scale. Gender was measured
by ‘What is your gender’ (male/female). IM experience
was measured in years by ‘Approximately how long
have you been using Instant Messenger?’ Prior task
experience was measured by ‘How much experience
have you had in the past with supply chain related tasks
similar to those that you have just worked on?’ on a scale
from none, a little, some to a lot.
Data analysis
Partial least squares (PLS) technique was performed to
test the measurement model and research hypotheses.
PLS requires a smaller sample size than other SEM
techniques (Chin et al., 2003). The minimum sample
size required by PLS is 10 times the larger number
of paths leading to an endogenous construct when all
constructs are reflective. In our research model, the
maximum number of paths entering an endogenous
variable is eight including the four control variables
and two interaction variables between interruption and
polychronicity and between position power of the
message sender and polychronicity. Therefore, a sample
size of 112 is deemed to be sufficient for PLS analysis.
Moreover, PLS does not assume a multivariate normal
distribution and interval scales (Wold, 1982). Our model
consists of two binary manipulated variables. As such,
PLS is considered more appropriate for our study than
other SEM techniques.
Measurement model and manipulation check
We examined convergent validity, reliability and discri-
minant validity of all latent constructs before testing
the hypotheses. Convergent validity is suggested if item
loadings are 0.60 or higher (Bagozzi & Yi, 1988). All
indicators had loadings above 0.6 except two items used
to measure polychronicity and two of the items used
to measure perceived work overload. These four items
were then dropped before the following analysis. All
remaining measurement items were found to load
significantly on their respective latent constructs. All
these confirm the convergent validity of the measure-
ment model. A scale is considered reliable if its composite
reliability (CR) is above 0.7 and average variance
extracted (AVE) is above 0.5 (Bagozzi & Yi, 1988). From
Table 1, all scales used in our study satisfy the above
criteria for reliability. Two criteria were further used to
assess discriminant validity based on loading and
cross-loading matrix (Table 2) and correlation matrix
(Table 1). All measurement items should load more
strongly on their respective construct than on other
constructs. Second, the square root of AVE of each con-
struct should be higher than the inter-construct correla-
tions, that is, the correlations between that construct
and any other constructs (Fornell & Larcker, 1981). As
shown in Tables 1 and 2, all constructs in our model
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European Journal of Information Systems
satisfy these two criteria for discriminant validity. There-
fore, our measurement model demonstrates sound relia-
bility and validity and should warrant the further analysis
on our research hypotheses.
Two t-tests were conducted to check the manipulation
on the position power of message senders (peer vs
supervisor) and interruption frequency (low vs high).
The position power of message senders in the subordi-
nate-to-supervisor condition was perceived to be signifi-
cantly higher than that in the peer-to-peer condition
with a P-value o0.01. Perceived workload in the high
interruption group was also found to be significantly
higher than that of the low interruption group (P-value
o0.05). Therefore, the manipulation of both the position
power of the message sender and interruption frequency
was successful.
Results of hypotheses testing
Figure 3 and Table 3 summarize the results of testing
the hypotheses. The model could explain 24.2% of the
variance in the perceived task complexity and 40.7% of
the variance in process satisfaction.
We first analyzed the moderation effects of the
polychronicity for Hypotheses 3 and 4. Then we tested
other main effect hypotheses. To analyze interaction
effect, we applied the product-indicator approach
suggested by Chin et al. (2003). Let Xand Zbe the
predictor and moderator. For example, in Hypothesis 4,
Xwould be the position power of message sender and
Zbe polychronicity. The indicators in Xand Zwere first
centered. Then, the indicators of the interaction term
(XZ) was established by multiplying the indicators
from Xand Z, that is, consisting of all possible cross-
multiplications of indicators in Xand Z. Once interaction
terms were formed, PLS analysis was performed by
including X,Zand XZ. Following the procedures
by Chin et al. (2003), we examined both effect size
and statistical signification of the moderation effect.
The effect size (f
) was 0.06 for the interaction
between polychronicity and interruption frequency
and 0.07 for the interaction between polychronicity
and the position power of message sender. Both of
the effect size values satisfies the 0.02 cutoff for
small effect size (Cohen, 1988)
and are found to be
statistically significant (Po0.05). Therefore, polychroni-
city moderates the effect of interruption frequency on
process satisfaction and the effect of position power
of message sender on perceived task complexity. The
interaction patterns of the two moderation effects
are show in Figures 4 and 5. Both patterns are consistent
with the hypotheses. The utility by Preacher et al.
(2006) was then applied to test statistical significance
of different level of polychronicity. We found that, for
knowledge workers with low polychronicity (1 standard
deviation below the mean), the increase in interruption
frequency reduces their process satisfaction and the
position power of message senders significantly
reduces their perceived task complexity. For knowledge
Table 1 Correlation matrix, reliability (CR) and average variance extracted (AVE) of latent constructs
Constructs Mean (STD) Reliability AVE 1 2 3 4 5
1. Complexity 2.6 (0.9) 0.94 0.79 0.89
2. Satisfaction 3.8 (0.7) 0.91 0.68 0.18 0.82
3. Polychronicity 3.2 (0.7) 0.89 0.59 0.21 0.41 0.77
4. Motivation 3.5 (0.7) 0.87 0.68 0.34 0.32 0.37 0.83
5. Workload 3.2 (0.9) 0.86 0.93 0.40 0.23 0.10 0.12 0.96
Note: Diagonal elements are the square root of the AVE values. Off-diagonal elements are the correlations among latent constructs.
Table 2 Results of factor analysis on latent constructs
Constructs/items Loadings and cross loadings
1. Complexity
COMP1 0.78 0.13 0.17 0.13 0.28
COMP2 0.91 0.24 0.13 0.29 0.40
COMP3 0.94 0.17 0.19 0.38 0.41
COMP4 0.91 0.10 0.26 0.34 0.31
2. Satisfaction
SATP1 0.09 0.85 0.39 0.27 0.18
SATP2 0.14 0.84 0.33 0.26 0.23
SATP3 0.22 0.85 0.27 0.22 0.18
SATP4 0.12 0.66 0.17 0.27 0.10
SATP5 0.19 0.89 0.47 0.30 0.24
3. Polychronicity
POLY1 0.06 0.38 0.77 0.32 0.16
POLY3 0.27 0.19 0.81 0.24 0.08
POLY4 0.15 0.40 0.83 0.24 0.06
POLY6 0.22 0.34 0.84 0.41 0.02
4. Motivation
MOTI1 0.28 0.15 0.29 0.83 0.11
MOTI2 0.30 0.34 0.35 0.85 0.11
MOTI3 0.27 0.26 0.27 0.80 0.08
5. Workload
LOAD1 0.40 0.24 0.11 0.11 0.97
LOAD2 0.38 0.20 0.07 0.12 0.96
Note: All bold loadings are significant with a P-value o0.001.
(interaction model) R
(main effects model)]/
(main effects model)].
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European Journal of Information Systems
workers with high polychronicity (1 standard deviation
above the mean), interruption frequency has no
significant effect on process satisfaction and position
power of message senders has no significant effect on
perceived task complexity. Therefore, H3 and H4 were
The remaining hypotheses were all found to be
statistically significant except H1. Interruption frequency
was not found to significantly influence the perceived
task complexity. Overall, the research model is well
supported. In addition, among the four covariates,
task motivation was found to significantly increase
perceived task complexity and process satisfaction
(P-value o0.01).
Summary of findings, post-hoc analysis, and limitations
In addressing the research questions, this study has
discovered several intriguing findings that provide
fruitful avenues for IM-related research. The results of
our study suggest that an individual’s time management
Position Power of
Message Sender
R2 = 24.2%
R2= 40.7%
IM experience
Prior task experience
Task motivation**
Figure 3 Results of testing hypotheses using PLS analysis. Completely standardized estimates, controlled for covariates in the
research model, *Po0.05, **Po0.01 (two-tailed).
Table 3 Summary of hypothesis testing results
Hypotheses Path coefficients t Value P value
H1: Interruption Frequency-Perceived Task Complexity. 0.032 0.38 P40.05 (not supported)
H2: Polychronicity-Process Satisfaction 0.226 2.08 Po0.05 (supported)
H3: Polychronicity Interruption Frequency-
Process Satisfaction
0.260 2.49 Po0.05 (supported)
H4: Polychronicity Position Power of Message Sender-
Perceived Task Complexity
0.261 2.84 Po0.01 (supported)
H5: Perceived Task Complexity-Process Satisfaction 0.409 4.65 Po0.01 (supported)
High Interruption
Process Satisfaction
Low Polychronicity
High Polychronicity
Low Interruption
Figure 4 The moderation effect of polychronicity on the
relationship between interruption frequency and process satis-
Perceived Task Complexity
Low Polychronicity
High Polychronicity
Figure 5 The moderation effect of polychronicity on the
relationship between the position power of message sender
and perceived task complexity.
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European Journal of Information Systems
orientation (i.e., polychronicity) influences his or her
satisfaction with the work process. Polychronic indivi-
duals were found to be more satisfied with the work
process deploying interruptive IM technology than
those with low polychronicity. Further, polychronicity
moderates the effect of interruption dimensions on an
individual’s perceived task complexity and process satis-
faction. In particular, we examined two dimensions of
interruptions: frequency and position power of message
senders. Interestingly, we found the important role of
position power of message senders and individuals’
polychronic orientation. For monochronic individuals,
the increase in IM interruption frequency significantly
reduces their satisfaction with the work process. In terms
of the position power of the message sender, the results
suggest that monochronic individuals tend to prioritize
tasks and perceive a lower level of overall task complexity
(considering both the main task and interruptive IM
tasks) when interruptive IM messages are sent from
their supervisors. Monochronic individuals view time
as a tangible resource and are more likely to feel the
time pressure to instantaneously respond to IM messages
sent from their supervisor than polychronic individuals.
As a result, they may adopt a heuristic strategy to process
the main task (i.e., skip processing some information
cues) and perceive a lower level of overall task complex-
ity. For polychronic individuals, on the other hand,
the two dimensions of interruptions have little impact
on process satisfaction and perceived task complexity
due to their inherent multitasking preference and time
management orientation (i.e. viewing time as intangible
(Slocombe & Bluedorn, 1999)).
The findings support all hypotheses except H1. Inter-
ruption frequency has no significant impact on perceived
task complexity. This may be related to the relatively low
overall perceived complexity level of tasks used in this
study. As shown in Table 1, the average perceived task
complexity is 2.6. Under relatively low task complexity
(including both the main task and interruptive IM tasks),
the increase in interruption frequency may have little
impact on the perceived task complexity.
Besides hypothesized relationships, we found that
subjects who were motivated to perform the experimental
tasks were more satisfied with the task process and
perceived the task to be less complex (P-value o0.01).
We further conducted a post-hoc analysis on the potential
role of task motivation in moderating the relationship
between interruption frequency and perceived task
complexity, between polychronicity and process satisfac-
tion and between interruption frequency and process
satisfaction. None of the three interaction terms was
significant (P-value o0.05). Therefore, task motivation
only exerts direct impacts on perceived task complexity
and process satisfaction.
Before we discuss the implications of our study, we
point to some of its limitations. First, the study used
student subjects, which restricts the external validity of
the study to a certain extent. Future studies using
knowledge workers in organizations will provide stronger
support for our results. To alleviate the restrictions on
external validity imposed by student subjects, the study
controlled for subjects’ task experience. In addition,
the age range of the subjects of this study is 19–39 years,
which is representative of the current users of IM at
the workplace to a large extent. Recent studies have
found that IM is used more often by younger employees
(o35 years) in the workplace (Cho et al., 2005; Kizer,
2008). Second, we tested our research model based on
the main task with moderate mental processing. We
should exercise caution when extending the results to
task contexts with more or less complex tasks. Different
task complexity levels may generate different outcomes.
Future studies could further test our research model
using more complex main tasks, such as idea generation
tasks, which require intensive mental processing or
memory. When polychronic individuals perform main
tasks requiring intensive memory processing, their
satisfaction with the work process may decrease with
the increase in the interruption frequency. Third, task
similarity between the main task and the interruptive
task was not investigated in this experimental study,
which was controlled to be the same for all subjects.
Future studies could further extend our research model
by manipulating task similarity at different levels from
being similar to dissimilar. Fourth, this study did not
examine the potential effect of job roles. IM interruptive
tasks and main tasks could require knowledge workers
to undertake different job roles such as switching from
writing software to providing technical support service
to clients over IM. The job demands from different
roles at the same time may increase the chance for
individuals to experience role overload, defined as
‘having more role behaviors to do than can be done a
given time period’ (McGrath & Kelly, 1986, p. 112). On
the other hand, the interruptive effect of IM messages
may be reduced if IM tasks have the same job role as
that of the main task. Future studies on IM interruptions
may need to consider the effect of role overload. Finally,
it is possible that one’s preference for polychronicity
or monochronicity may depend on the nature of the
work task and the individual’s level of mental agility at
the time of the task completion, so future studies may
test for variability in this individual-level attribute long-
Implications for research
This study has several important implications for
research. First, our study found that a knowledge worker’s
satisfaction with the work process utilizing IM is
influenced by the interaction between interruption
frequency and the individual’s multitasking preference
(polychronicity). Studies ignoring the moderation effect
of polychronicity will provide incomplete results. Further
studies are necessary to study the direct and moderation
effects of polychronicity on employee satisfaction with
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European Journal of Information Systems
the work process considering different levels of interrup-
tion frequency and objective tasks complexity.
Second, the results suggest that an individual’s
polychronic tendency also interacts with the position
power of the message sender in determining his or her
perceived task complexity. Monochronic individuals
are more inclined to use scheduling and prioritizing
tasks to meet their obligations when they are under
time pressure. As a result, when prompted to respond to
IM messages sent from their supervisors, monochronic
individuals could perceive a lower overall task complexity
through lowering the priority of main tasks and process
fewer information cues. Therefore, monochronic and
polychronic individuals not only differ in their prefer-
ence of multitasking but also in their time management
orientation. At present, the understanding of the effect
of time management orientation of individuals in the
workplace is limited. The difference in time management
orientation, that is, polychronicity, may interact with
the position power of the message sender and influence
not only their perceived task complexity but also their
task performance.
Finally, it is important to consider the effect of the
position power when examining the potential conse-
quence of IM interruptions. The findings of this study
suggest that the position power of message senders
plays a role in influencing the way in which message
recipients, especially those with low polychronicity,
process tasks, subsequently shaping their perceived task
complexity. Besides the position power of message
senders, other social characteristics of IM interruptions
may also enable researchers to further understand
the impact of IM technology. For example, the strength
of the social ties between message senders and recipients
could influence process satisfaction as well.
Implications for practice
The findings of this study also have important implica-
tions for organizations deploying IM technology.
First, our study suggests that polychronic individuals
tend to be more satisfied with the work setting with
IM interruptions than monochronic individuals. Poly-
chronic individuals are more likely to be committed to
organizations in such a multitasking work environment.
Organizations would need to consider an individual’s
polychronic orientation when assigning jobs and deploy-
ing IM technology such as fitting polychronic individuals
into multitasking jobs with IM interruptions. Monochro-
nic individuals may be allowed to turn off the presence
awareness feature or post a ‘do not disturb’ or ‘busy’
indicator. The challenge of controlling the interruption
frequency for monochronic knowledge workers is not so
much at the implementation or the technology level as it
is at the management or cultural level. The technology
needed to control the interruption flow/arrival already
exists at the server and client level. Any alterations in
such settings, however, may require changes in the
communication practices at workplace, and impression
management (e.g., a knowledge responding to a message
immediately upon receiving may leave a better impres-
sion on supervisor than a worker responding to a message
received after 8 h). In the overall picture, implementing
controlled interruption frequency would also require
senior management and peers to develop a better under-
standing of how it impacts the overall communication
culture of the organization.
Second, we found that the increase in interruption
frequency quickly reduces monochronic individuals’
process satisfaction. Yet the increase has little impact
or only slightly enhances polychronic individuals’
process satisfaction. Organizations would be advised to
consider such polychronic differences when monitoring
and controlling the frequency of IM interruptions. IM
interruption frequency should be kept minimum for
monochronic individuals and be at low to relatively high
level (not extremely high) for polychronic individuals.
Third, a fit between employees’ polychronic orienta-
tion and work setting helps to increase their satisfaction.
Employee satisfaction resulting from polychronicity/job
fit was found to further reduce employee turnover (Arndt
et al., 2006). Organizations should consider such fit in
their hiring decisions. The Inventory of Polychronic
Values (IPV) developed by Bluedorn et al. (1999) or a
scale similar to IPV has been recommended to organiza-
tions to classify workers along the monochronic/
polychronic continuum (Arndt et al., 2006). Alterna-
tively, a worker’s polychronic orientation could also be
revealed through an in-depth interview on his or her
liking or disliking of tasks conducted in the previous
employment (Barclay, 2001). Organizations can then
identify those with a relative high level of polychronicity
for multitasking environments, while hiring those more
oriented toward the monochronic end of the continuum
for tasks emphasizing strict schedules.
The fit between task and polychronic orientation also
has important implications for the job design. Organiza-
tional tasks could be classified based on time dimensions
such as deadlines and punctuality (i.e., the degree of
rigidity to which deadlines are adhered) (Schriber &
Gutek, 1987). Such time dimensions could then be
considered to facilitate job coordination and synchroni-
zation among employees with varying degree of poly-
chronic orientation (Schriber & Gutek, 1987; Benabou,
1999). For organizational units dominated by mono-
chronic employees, message senders could be required
to send tasks with flexible deadlines and less stringent
punctuality through asynchronous communication
channels instead of the synchronous IM systems. In this
way, unnecessary interruptions could be avoided, which
helps increase the job satisfaction of monochronic
message receivers. Technologies could also be designed
to continuously monitor the level of interruptions
received by each employee from all electronic commu-
nication channels and divert incoming interruptive tasks
requiring no immediate responses to asynchronous
channels when necessary.
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European Journal of Information Systems
Fourth, monochronic and polychronic individuals
take different approaches in managing their time. Such
differences in time management have an impact on how
the job is done. Monochronic individuals are likely to give
lower priority to the main task and, therefore, process
fewer information cues in the main task when they are
under the time pressure to respond to interruptive IM
messages from their supervisors. Conversely, as polychro-
nic individuals view time as intangible (Slocombe &
Bluedorn, 1999), they would try to seek a balance between
the main task and IM interruption tasks. These two time
management orientations should be recognized and
considered in the job design of an organization.
Last, when deploying IM technology, organizations
should consider the position power of the message sender.
We found that interruptive messages sent from supervisors
are likely to reduce their overall perceived task complexity
and the amount of effort for monochronic individuals in
processing the main task. The reduced processing effort of
the main task could potentially influence how well the
main task is performed. If the main task requires detailed
information processing, the reduction in processing effort
would have a detrimental effect on the quality of the main
task. Therefore, supervisors need to exercise caution when
sending IM messages.
As contemporary organizations increasingly seek to
improve their performance in terms of communication
efficiency and effectiveness, it becomes a significant
undertaking for organizations to embrace technological
innovations to support information sharing and coordi-
nation with their constituents. Hence, it is important to
understand the potential impacts of workplace applica-
tions of IM technology, both positive and negative.
Drawing upon theoretical perspectives on interruption
and polychronic communication, this study provides
empirical evidence for the impact of the interruptive IM
technology on employee satisfaction and subjective task
complexity. Our results suggest that polychronicity is an
important moderator that adjusts the effect of interrup-
tions, with monochronic individuals being more respon-
sive to interruptions than polychronic individuals.
Interruptions decrease monochronic individuals’ satisfac-
tion with the multitasking work process and change
the way they process information when they are under
the pressure to process interruptive tasks from their
supervisors. The results of our study also highlight
the importance of considering the position power of
message senders when examining the impact of innova-
tive communication technologies. Furthermore, this
research opens up additional opportunities for managers
to facilitate effective use of IM technologies in the
workplace and perhaps to select the right individuals
for each position based on their relative polychronicity.
This study provides a general research framework for this
domain and sets the stage for future investigation into
the interplay between individual user’s psychological
traits and advanced technology use and stimulates
further research in this arena.
About the authors
Han Li is Assistant Professor in School of Business at
Minnesota State University Moorhead. She received her
master’s in Telecommunication Management, and doc-
torate in Management Science and Information Systems
Operations Research,Decision Support Systems,Journal of
Computer Information Systems,Information Management
and Computer Security,andJournal of Information Privacy
and Security.
Ashish Gupta is Associate Professor in School of
Business at Minnesota State University Moorhead. His
research interests are in the areas of information
overload, email management, instant messaging, inter-
ruptions, healthcare, and simulation modeling. His
recent articles appeared in journals such as Communica-
tions of AIS,Information Systems Frontiers,Annals of
Information Systems,etc.Heisontheeditorialboard
of a few journals and guest co-editing special issue
of Decision Support Systems on ‘Modeling for Better
Healthcare’ and special issue of Information Systems
Frontiers on Communication flow. He served as the
program committee of AMCIS 2009, as Conference
Co-chair of Midwest AIS 2010 conference and workshop
on Healthcare Services Management and Modeling.
Xin Luo is Assistant Professor of MIS at the University
of New Mexico, U.S.A. He has published research papers
in journals including European Journal of Information
Systems,Decision Support Systems,Communications of
the ACM,Journal of the AIS,Journal of Organizational
Computing and Electronic Commerce,Journal of Organiza-
tional and End User Computing,andCommunications of
the AIS.
Merrill Warkentin is Professor of MIS at Mississippi State
University. He has published over 200 research manu-
scripts – primarily about IS security, eCommerce, and
virtual teams – in books, Proceedings, and journals such
as MIS Quarterly,Decision Sciences,European Journal of
Information Systems,Decision Support Systems,Communica-
tions of the ACM,Communications of the AIS,Information
Systems Journal,Information Resources Management Journal,
Journal of Organizational and End User Computing,Journal
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al 151
European Journal of Information Systems
of Global Information Management, and others. Professor
Warkentin is the co-author or editor of four books, and
is currently an Associate Editor for European Journal of
Information Systems,Information Resources Management
Journal,Journal of Information Systems Security, and for
the Special Issue of MIS Quarterly on IS security. Dr.
Warkentin has served as a consultant to numerous
organizations and has served as National Distinguished
Lecturer for the Association for Computing Machinery
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Appendix A
Main tasks
Exact Start Time (Use the clock on computer):
Your firm is located at Albany, New York (Zip: 12250)
and ships two types of boxes (Type A and Type B) to each
of the warehouses on a daily basis. The approximate
value of one Type A box or one Type B box is about $100.
Box A: Length: 13 inches, Width: 17 inches, Height: 9
inches, Weight: 45 pounds
Box B: Length: 6 inches, Width: 12 inches, Height: 10
inches, Weight: 16 pounds
Compare the Ground Shipping and Priority Mail rates
of two companies and fill out Table A1.
UPS ¼en_US
Select these options: Shipment Type: Package/Letter,
Destination Type: Commercial Address, Quote Type:
Detailed Time and Cost, Select: 0I will drop off my
prepaid package(s)0, Daily pickup: No, Packaging: My
U.S. Postal Service
Select these options: Rectangular box, Priority Mail and
add an Insurance of $100 under extra services.
Exact Finish Time (Use the clock on Computer):
Enter your Yahoo ID name
Table A1
Shipping rate
UPS (Ground shipping) U.S. Postal service (Priority mail)
1 A Cost 1 B Cost 1 A Cost 1 B Cost
Rye, New York (Zip 10580)
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European Journal of Information Systems
Appendix B
See Table B1.
Table B1 Supplier information used for interruptive IM tasks
Orders and suppliers
Vendor name Vendor no. Item no. Item description Item cost A/P terms Avg. delay time
(in days)
Hulkey Fasteners 1 1122 Airframe fasteners $4.25 30 0.27*
3166 Electrical Connector $1.25
9966 Hatch Decal $0.75
5066 Shielded Cable/ft. $0.95
Spacetime Technologies 2 4111 Bolt-nut package $3.55 25 4.00
9752 Gasket $4.05
6489 O-Ring $3.00
5125 Shielded Cable/ft. $1.15
Durrable Products 3 1369 Airframe fasteners $4.20 45 0.00
4569 Bolt-nut package $3.50
5454 Control Panel $220.00
9399 Gasket $3.65
7258 Pressure Gauge $90.00
5275 Shielded Cable/ft. $1.00
Fast-Tie Aerospace 4 5166 Electrical Connector $1.25 30 1.00
6321 O-Ring $2.45
7268 Pressure Gauge $95.00
5462 Shielded Cable/ft. $1.05
5689 Side panel $175.00
Alum Sheeting 5 1243 Airframe fasteners $4.25 30 1.75
4224 Bolt-nut package $3.95
5417 Control Panel $255.00
5634 Side Panel $185.00
Steelpin Inc. 6 4312 Bolt-nut package $3.75 30 2.53
5234 Electrical Connector $1.65
8008 Machined Valve $645.00
5677 Side Panel $195.00
5319 Shielded Cable/ft. $1.10
Manley Valve 7 9955 Door Decal $0.55 30 0.36
9967 Hatch Decal $0.85
8148 Machined Valve $655.50
6431 O-Ring $2.85
9977 Panel Decal $1.00
7258 Pressure Gauge $100.50
Pylon Accessories 8 9764 Gasket $3.75 15 2.60
6433 O-Ring $2.95
Negative delay time means the order arrived earlier than promised by the vendor.
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Appendix C
Interruptive IM tasks
Low level of interruption:
1. Which supplier has the longest A/P term?
High level of interruption:
1. Which supplier has the longest A/P term?
2. Which supplier is the best in terms of on-time
3. Which supplier has the lowest price for Airframe
4. Which supplier has the lowest price for Shielded
Appendix D
Table D1 Survey instrument
Perceived task complexity (Maynard & Hakel, 1997)
COMP1 I found this to be a complex task.
COMP2 This task was mentally demanding.
COMP3 This task required a lot of thought and problem solving.
COMP4 I found this to be a challenging task.
Process satisfaction (Green & Taber, 1980)
SATP1 I would describe the entire problem solving process I just used as efficient.
SATP2 I would describe the entire problem solving process I just used as coordinated.
SATP3 I would describe the entire problem solving process I just used as fair.
SATP4 I would describe the entire problem solving process I just used as understandable.
SATP5 I would describe the entire problem solving process I just used as satisfying.
Polychronicity (Conte & Jacobs, 2003)
POLY1 I like to juggle several activities at the same time.
POLY2 I prefer to do one thing at a time.
POLY3 I believe people should try many things at once.
POLY4 I should try to do many things at once.
POLY5 When I work by myself, I usually work on one task at a time.
POLY6 I believe people do their best work when they have many tasks to do.
Task motivation (Maynard & Hakel, 1997)
MOTI1 I was motivated to perform well on this task.
MOTI2 This task was interesting to me.
MOTI3 I put a lot of effort into coming up with the best possible solution.
Perceived workload (Moore, 2000)
LOAD1 I feel busy or rushed.
LOAD2 I feel pressured.
LOAD3 I feel that the number of requests or problems I deal with is more than expected.
LOAD4 I feel that the amount of work I do interferes with how well it is done.
Exploring the impact of instant messaging Han Li et al 155
European Journal of Information Systems
... In today's world, mobile communication has seriously increased the time people spend on their mobile phones and they are also almost constantly available for communication requests of others [16]. Nowadays interruptions, for example through Instant Messaging Services, are more and more common [13]. People are permanently available and reachable, they can be contacted anytime and anywhere [14]. ...
... Existing research has aimed to understand the potential impact of interruptions on individuals [13]. The effects of interruptions are impacted by an individual's personal traits [8]. ...
... The effects of interruptions are impacted by an individual's personal traits [8]. Personal traits referred to as polychronicity and monochronicity appear to be important factors here [13]. They refer to individual time management preferences and how likely they are to prefer to perform different activities at the same time. ...
... Being distracted by technology can become a habitual response (Aagaard, 2015) that contributes to stress (Ortbach et al., 2013). This can vary considerably across individuals based on, for example, preference for multi-tasking (Li et al., 2011) and cognitive control (Mark et al., 2016b). It is interesting to note that simply reducing or turning off sources of distraction such as e-mail notifications may not be the answer as this can lead to users self-interrupting in order to gain awareness of information and maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium, which may lead to higher cognitive and task performance costs (Iqbal & Horvitz, 2010;Katidioti et al., 2016;Mark et al., 2015). ...
... Reinke and Chamorro-Premuzic (2014) suggested that individuals with more positive self-evaluations are less likely to feel overloaded by e-mail, and that this construct is a better predictor of overload than individual personality traits such as neuroticism and conscientiousness. Polychronicity, or preference for multitasking, is also implicated, with those high in the trait experiencing less ICT-related overload (Saunders et al., 2017) and little impact from interruptions on satisfaction with multi-tasking or perceived task complexity (Li et al., 2011). ...
An intensification of digital working driven by Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus both the beneficial nature of digital workplace technologies and their potential dark side. Research has burgeoned in this area in recent years, but an integrated view across fields, technologies, dark side effects and outcomes is lacking. There are potential insights to be gained from compiling and comparing results and theoretical approaches. Following integrative review procedures, 194 studies were analysed to understand unintended negative consequences of a range of workplace technologies across disciplines and methodologies. The results demonstrate that considerable insight has been uncovered regarding certain dark side effects, stress in particular, in relation to e-mail and smartphones. However, a broader view of how they might manifest in relation to employees' holistic digital experience of work beyond certain information and communication technologies (ICTs) is lacking, including a clear picture of objective demands of the technology with which these effects are associated. Much remains to be understood across the full range of dark side effects in relation to the digital workplace including the associations between them and how they relate to cognitive and affective outcomes. The importance of both theoretical rigour and diversity is highlighted.
... When interruptions occur during simple tasks, stress increases and attention narrows, resulting in the exclusion of irrelevant information cues thus facilitating decision performance. However, as task complexity increases (Kelton, Pennington, and Tuttle 2010;Li et al. 2011), people's cognitive resources decrease and attention is narrowed, resulting in the exclusion of some information cues that may be needed for completing the task successfully. Adverse effects of these interruptions may occur at different stages (phases) in the task being undertaken. ...
Full-text available
Anti-malware software must be frequently updated in order to protect the system and the user from attack. Makers of this software must choose between interrupting the user to update immediately or allowing them to update later. In either case, assessing the content of the interruption may still require cognitive investment. However, by allowing the user to negotiate a delayed response to these interruptions, users can instead focus on their work. This paper experimentally examines the effect of immediate and negotiated interruptions on user decision time and decision accuracy in multiple stage tasks. For complex tasks, decision performance is higher when the user can negotiate the onset of and response to interruptions. The option to defer response also results in greater subjective perceptions of control, improved task resumption and reduced feelings of interruption and distraction on the part of the user, even within a short period of time. These findings have practical implications for endpoint security and where there is a need to mitigate the effects of user interruptions from computer-mediated communication in complex task situations.
Purpose The authors investigate the relationship between instant messenger (IM) use and work performance, mediated by interruptions and two key indicators of the stress associated with technology use: overload and complexity. Design/methodology/approach The authors validate this research model using partial least squares structural equation modelling (PLS-SEM) with data collected through a survey of 416 working professionals. Findings The data reveal that while IM use contributes minimally to work interruptions and to a greater extent to technological complexity, these two constructs fully mediate the direct influence of IM use at work on technology overload, and meanwhile significantly and directly contribute to work performance. Research limitations/implications This research provides theoretical insights into the deployment of IM and its actual impacts in the workplace. To improve the generalisation of the findings, the authors call for more IM-related research in other countries, with more native theories and various methodologies in this domain. Practical implications The level of stress generated through IM use is moderate, considering IM is not a significant contributor to work interruptions. Thus, despite the potential negative effects of IM communication, the positive effects of using IM at work prevail. As a result, the technology can be promoted as long as employees, their managers and the organisation as a whole are well prepared. Employees can transfer skills and behaviour from the personal setting to their work environment and thus may find an intrinsic motivation to make better use of the IM technology at work. Originality/value The authors argue that this research model is novel for its perspective on evaluating the actual impacts of IM use at work instead of the reasons of using it. The authors conceptualise the process to explain how IM contributes to interruptions and other technostress indicators in the working context, and the impact on performance. Contrary to some prior research, the authors find that overall IM applications do not have a negative impact on work performance, and instead may enhance it.
Full-text available
Bu çalışmanın amacı bireylerin aynı anda birden fazla görevi yerine getirmeyi tercih etmesini ifade eden “polikronisite” kavramına yönelik sistematik alan yazın incelemesi yapılmasıdır. Günümüz iş dünyasının girift yapısında çoklu görev yapabilen bireylere ihtiyaç giderek artmaktadır. Polikronisitenin çoklu görev yapmayı tercih etme özelliği taşıması işletmelerin performansı ve verimliliği açısından kritik önem taşımaktadır. Polikronisitenin işletmeler açısından etkilediği kavramların, sistematik içerik analizi yöntemiyle sıklıklarının tespit edilmesi ve bu tespitler doğrultusunda kavrama yönelik çıkarımlarda bulunarak literatüre katkı sağlamak hedeflenmektedir. Literatürde, polikronisite kavramına yönelik sistematik içerik analiz yönteminin uygulandığı herhangi bir çalışma tespit edilememiştir. Araştırma sonucunda, polikronisitenin 32 farklı kavramı etkilediği tespit edilmiştir. Polikronisite kavramı ile ilgili çalışmaların çoğunlukla iş performansı üzerindeki etkisini incelemeye yönelik olduğu gözlemlenmiştir.
BACKGROUND: The increase of technological complexity at the workplace has encouraged researchers to pay more attention to the stress employees experience while constantly learning and adapting to new technologies. This study considers employee silence as a passive coping strategy in response to technological complexity. OBJECTIVE: This study examines whether self-efficacy mediates the effect of technological complexity on employee silence (i.e., quiescence and acquiescence) and whether social support interacts with technological complexity to influence self-efficacy and thereby employee silence. METHODS: Using a web-based survey, the data were collected from 206 full-time employees working in different sectors in France. RESULTS: Results indicate that technological complexity is positively associated with employee silence (i.e., quiescence and acquiescence silence) and that self-efficacy mediates the effect of technological complexity on employee silence. However, the effects of technological complexity are less pronounced when individuals have access to a large pool of social support. CONCLUSION: Managers are encouraged to introduce HR policies that motivate employees to speak up about the use of complex technology at the workplace by leveraging different social support programs.
Full-text available
Frequent task-switching between communication media is ubiquitous. Recent research on the topic highlights that multiple dimensions compete to predict task performance and productivity while multitasking. However, the emotional impact of task-switching is understudied and is an important outcome for understanding communication technology use and its potential effects on people’s well-being. This research used ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to gather task-switching and emotional data in real-time through a smart phone application. The emotional effect of the task control multitasking dimensions was assessed via a structural equation model. Results show attitudes toward task-switching moderate emotional valence, but arousal increases with frequency of task-switches. Furthermore, attitudes toward task-switching do not predict frequency of task-switches, contrary to assumptions made in previous research and indicating a loss of control of task-switching behaviors.
Purpose Knowledge workers live and work in a technology-enabled, push-notification world full of interruptions that create information overload, often requiring these workers to utilize task switching as a mechanism to meet multiple competing tasks' demands. Previous research has examined both the positive and, more often, negative effects from interruptions and task switching on knowledge workers' performance. However, this paper aims to examine knowledge workers' agentic approach to managing interruption signals and consequent task switching to remain dedicated to the task at hand. Design/methodology/approach Using an inductive grounded theory approach, we analyzed data from semi-structured interviews with knowledge workers regarding their experiences with task management strategies in interruption-heavy environments. Findings The results indicate the emergence of a new construct that we define as “task adherence.” We identified behavioral and technological mechanisms that knowledge workers employ to adhere to tasks, and we also categorized a host of environmental, personal and task-related factors that influence a knowledge worker's task adherence level. Practical implications This study offers a novel conceptualization of key determinants of knowledge workers' task management. Through insights into how knowledge workers purposefully prepare for and address potential interruption signals, as well as manage task switching from subsequent interruptions, managers may be able to design new work processes to improve task performance. Originality/value In a world of interruptions, task adherence adds to and clarifies a missing element in the time and task management dilemma that can enhance future efforts in designing strategies that enable knowledge workers to be more productive.
The statistical tests used in the analysis of structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error are examined. A drawback of the commonly applied chi square test, in addition to the known problems related to sample size and power, is that it may indicate an increasing correspondence between the hypothesized model and the observed data as both the measurement properties and the relationship between constructs decline. Further, and contrary to common assertion, the risk of making a Type II error can be substantial even when the sample size is large. Moreover, the present testing methods are unable to assess a model's explanatory power. To overcome these problems, the authors develop and apply a testing system based on measures of shared variance within the structural model, measurement model, and overall model.
We seek to enrich organizational inquiry by introducing an additional level of abstraction based on theory complexity. We develop four levels of theory complexity and anchor each with well-established theoretical frameworks and research streams. After identifying the contingency approach as the simplest, we progress through cycles and competing values approaches and arrive at the chaos perspective as the most complex. We use research on time orientations, polychronicity, and entrainment to illustrate the utility of such a ladder of theoretical complexity in provoking alternative research lenses and inquiry.
The thesis of this research is that performance on a task depends not only on objective complexity (a task characteristic) but also on one's perception of task complexity. This study allowed investigation of the influences of (a) cognitive ability, (b) motivation, (c) subjective task complexity, and (d) task experience on performance for an objectively simple or complex scheduling task. Potential determinants of subjective complexity were also studied, as well as the mediating effects of subjective complexity on the relations between independent variables (i.e., objective complex- ity, cognitive ability, and task experience) and task performance. Participants (N = 195) were undergraduates who prepared a 1-week work schedule for a fictitious film processing store under either a Simple or Complex condition. Those in the Complex condition were additionally required to account for employee time off and varying store traffic. Hierarchical regression revealed significant, unique main effects for objective task complexity and subjective task complexity in predicting task perform- ance when controlling for cognitive ability. Subjective task complexity was found to partially mediate the (a) objective task complexity-performance and (b) cognitive ability-performance relations. Future directions for research and theory are discussed.
Abstract Interruptions are typically considered disruptive for organizational members, hindering their performance,and effectiveness. Although interruptions can have negative effects on work performance, they also can serve in multiple ways as facilitators of performance. In this paper, we discuss four key types of interruptions that have different causes and consequences: intrusions, breaks, distractions, and discrepancies. Each type of interruption can occur during the workday, and each type has different implications for individual effectiveness. We delineate the principle features of each of the four types of interruptions and specify when each kind of interruption is likely to have positive or negative consequences,for the person being interrupted. By discussing in detail the multiple kinds of interruptions and their potential for positive or negative consequences, we provide a means for organizational scholars to treat interruptions and their consequences,in more discriminating ways. 2 Interruptions are generally defined as incidents or occurrences that obstruct or delay organizational members as they attempt to make progress on work tasks and, thus, are typically
This research provides strong support for the existence of dominant media norms within organizations and describes their influence on employees’ (a) perceptions of organizational norms, (b) reported media use, and (c) performance evaluations. Survey results demonstrate the presence of strong organizational norms for instant messaging (IM) and e-mail use within a large, high-tech organization. These norms, as well as supervisory behavior, may influence employees’ use of IM and e-mail and even more so when employees have strong polychronic orientations. In addition, employees who reportedly followed organizational norms by using IM and e-mail were awarded higher performance ratings by their supervisors, with 30% of the variance explained. The authors support the survey findings with in-depth interviews with participants exploring media use.
Hypothesized relations among polychronicity, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and supervisor performance ratings were developed and tested in a sample of 174 computer retail sales employees. Polychronicity was significantly related to supervisor ratings of customer service (r = .22), sales performance (r = .22), and overall performance (r = .23). Although Conscientiousness was unrelated to the performance outcomes, Extraversion was significantly related to supervisor ratings of customer service (r = .27), sales performance (r = .20), and overall performance (r = .25). In addition, polychronicity provided incremental validity above the contribution of Big Five personality dimensions in predicting supervisor ratings of customer service, sales performance, and overall performance. Future directions for research examining relations between polychronicity and job performance across different work settings are discussed.
This study developed criterion and construct validity evidence for polychronicity, which is the extent to which people prefer to be engaged in two or more tasks or activities at the same time. Hypothesized relationships between polychronicity and lateness, absence, and supervisory ratings of performance were developed and tested in a heterogenous field sample of 181 train operators. Results indicated that polychronicity was significantly related to absence (r = .25), lateness (r = .19), and supervisory performance ratings (r = -.17). Hypothesized Big Five personality dimensions (Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism) were also significantly associated with absence, but not lateness. Specifically, absence was significantly related to Conscientiousness (r = -.23), Extraversion (r = .15), and Neuroticism (r = .19). In addition, polychronicity accounted for variance in absence and lateness beyond that accounted for by hypothesized Big Five personality dimensions, cognitive ability, and demographic characteristics. Future research directions for work on polychronicity are discussed.