As social media and technology becomes a bigger intrusion into the workplace, multitasking is becoming a bigger part of marketing jobs, according to new research from specialist recruiter Randstad Business Support. 

In a survey of 2,025 British adults conducted by Randstad, nearly eight in ten (78%) of marketing professionals polled reported that they have to juggle more disruptions like emails, phone calls, texts and social media posts in their working lives than they did two or three years ago. In contrast, just 4% reported that they have to deal with less, and the remainder said it was unchanged.

Working in marketing requires more multitasking than the typical job.  Overall, 96% of marketing professionals encounter interruptions in their daily working days – the second highest proportion of any industry sector. This compares to 89% of UK workers on average.  Less than 4% of marketing professionals said their job did not require them to multitask. 


Industry Percentage
HR 100%
Marketing 96%
Technology 95%
Retail 94%
Social Care 92%
Education 92%
Construction & Engineering 90%
UK Average 89%
Financial & Professional Services 88%

TABLE 1: PERCENTAGE OF JOBS REQUIRING MULTITASKING, BY INDUSTRY


But marketing professionals are paying a significant cognitive price for all the multitasking they undertake in their roles.  According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption takes, on average, more than 20 minutes. 
 

multitasking coping strategies

Randstad offers a couple of strategies to successfully cope with the modern demands of multitasking in the workplace.  High-performing employees who want to maintain their productivity can change their environment to move temptation further away – shutting down emails, closing Twitter and Facebook, and silencing phones.  And they can cluster similar activities together, keeping the transitional ramp-up time to a minimum.  Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout the day, they can try grouping related tasks so there are fewer transitions between them. 

Marketing employees are more receptive to these strategies than their counterparts in all other sectors. Asked if they ever used changed their working environment to cope with multitasking pressures, 48% said yes, the highest of any sector and 14 percentage points above the UK average of 34%.


Industry Percentage
Marketing 48%
Technology 47%
Financial & Professional Services 40%
Education 39%
HR 38%
Social Care 35%
UK Average  34%
Retail 31%
Construction and Engineering 28%

TABLE 2: EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE DEVELOPED STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH DEMANDS OF MULTITASKING, BY INDUSTRY


Ruth Jacobs, managing director of Randstad Business Support, said:  “Marketing today requires workers to be ‘online’ more than ever – keeping a watchful eye on Twitter feeds, viral campaigns, memes, Facebook and other social media platforms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go off-grid for half an hour – and in fact, it might be what’s needed to keep your focus and concentration in such a fast-paced and multi-faceted working environment.

“The solutions are relatively simple. You can divide your day into chunks of time, for instance booking in meetings back-to-back, or physically taking yourself away from your computer when you’ve got lots of reports and documents to read. Set yourself a few windows to respond to emails a day, instead of consistently tearing yourself away from existing tasks to reply. You can’t stop the encroachment of technology into marketing remits anymore, but you can manage it better. Employers realise how prevalent multitasking is in the workplace, and as it becomes a more valued skill candidates need to demonstrate in interviews that they have developed effective strategies to juggle their time and prioritise tasks effectively.”
 

time and effective IQ lost to daily interruptions

Given that those marketing professionals interviewed as part of Randstad’s research reported being interrupted 8.5 times every day, and that only 48% of marketing workers are using practical techniques to manage distractions, the majority of employees in the marketing are losing as much as 170 minutes per day – adding up to 14 hours every week – to multitasking.

With approximately 900,000 full-time marketing professionals currently employed in the United Kingdom[1], typically working for 253 days a year[2], the country’s marketing industry are now losing more than 44 million working days’ worth of productivity every year as a result of multitasking.

A University of London experiment revealed we lose the equivalent of 10 IQ points when we allow our work flow to be interrupted by distractions[3].  But when asked if they believed they paid a cognitive price every time they had to drop everything and rapidly switch focus, only 52% of marketers polled said they did.  In addition, when they were asked to estimate how many IQ points they lost by each interruption, marketing professionals severely underestimated the effect, with the average answer being only four IQ points.

Ruth Jacobs said: “Multitasking is becoming a bigger requirement of marketing jobs – and it’s worrying when you look at the impact this has on our productivity. Many people simply don’t realise how long it takes to get back into the swing of things once you’ve been distracted by a text flashing up on your phone, or been sidelined on Twitter. But it’s not just in time that we feel the consequences too – it has a much deeper cognitive price too. Shockingly, our IQ is impaired when we drop everything to deal with a distraction. In marketing, where real time demands of social media are among the largest, employees need to be aware of this stark truth and adopt solutions to make sure multitasking doesn’t impact the quality of their work.”
 

gender divide

There is some difference in opinion between the sexes as to who are the best multitaskers.  More than four-fifths (83%) of workers claim they are better than average at multitasking, with only 17% saying they are worse than average.  Nine-tenths of women say they are good at multitasking while only 75% of men say the same.  And although one-sixth (16%) of men claim to be very good at multitasking, Randstad found the figure for women is more than a quarter (28%).

But there is also a clear gender divide when it comes to perceptions of multitasking ability. 

While 38% of males interviewed thought men and women were equally good at multitasking, just 13% of women felt the same.  Almost three-quarters of female respondents said they thought women were better at multitasking than men – compared to just 38% of male respondents.  And while 5% of males interviewed said men were better at multitasking than women – none of the women interviewed said they felt the same way.

Ruth Jacobs concluded: “Women have long suspected that they are superior multitaskers than men, but it actually looks to be a pretty universal truth. But both sexes are guilty of slight delusion when it comes to multitasking ability, and underestimating the mental toll it takes on us all.  The vast majority of the workforce think they are better-than-average multitaskers, which simply isn’t possible.”


[1] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/august-2015/statistical-bulletin.html
[2] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/august-2015/statistical-bulletin.html
[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/04/22/text.iq/