If the business world continues on its current path, the job ad of the future — if it gives full disclosure — would have to read something like this: “Seeking a desk-bound worker capable of poor job performance and quick burnout for constant multitasking.”
Neuroscience research continues to elucidate the downside of very routine job skills. Multitasking, a mainstay in today’s workplace, is frequently at the heart of an epidemic in chronic distraction, job error and impaired concentration in the American worker. If this wasn’t enough, there is a more insidious consequence of these core work duties.
It’s what I call “Agitance.”
Agitance refers to our inner motor: how revved up we feel inside. It is different than stress, which relates to a distinct event or situation, such as dealing with coworker conflict, a deadline or an oral presentation. In contrast, agitance isn’t caused by one particular event or setting; rather, it is created by a buildup of imbalances.
Positions requiring high amounts of multitasking, emailing and computer demands lead to a greater amount of agitance. And high levels of agitance, as with stress, lead to a greater release of stress hormones, endorphins (natural opiates in the body) and glucose (sugar) into the blood stream. Over time, chronic states of high agitance lead to a physical and psychological dependency: our bodies literally adapt to having higher levels of sugar and hormones. We become agitance junkies.
When we find ourselves without this hormone rush, we start to crave it, suffer withdrawals and feel unsettled. In order to end our discomfort, we are driven to restore our agitance levels. We become entrapped by an insatiable need for stimulation. At work and at home, we develop obsessive thinking, expect instant gratification, demand perfection from others, have a shorter fuse, develop a lower stress tolerance and develop a greater propensity for illness.
Since multitasking, emailing and computer dependence are not likely to vanish anytime soon, the survival of the American worker — and the productivity companies require from them — will significantly depend on the successful management of agitance and discomfort in the work place. Those workers and companies that master this ability will find that this will be the key survival skill of the 21st century.