Healthy Facilities™

Process Cleaning Uses Specialists, Avoids Multitasking - Here's Why

By PC4HS Staff

"We are working longer and harder than ever. Some of that is certainly due to the increasing complexity of our society, but some of that may have to do with the inefficiencies of multitasking." - Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical correspondent.

Much fuss has been made over multitasking—the ability to perform multiple actions, such as using a cell phone while driving, dashing off e-mails while on a conference call, or entering customer numbers into your smart phone during a business seminar. Yet an increasing amount of research shows that rather than help workers do more, multitasking can actually jeopardize productivity, quality, safety—even worker morale. Let’s look at some of these findings and how they relate to cleaning.
  
Productivity and Labor Costs

A study published in the American Psychological Society’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found that people who multitask are actually less productive than those who focus on one project at a time. More specifically, the research discovered that people actually lose time when they must switch from one task to another.   

“Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task,” writes David Meyer, Ph.D., one of the three researchers who led the study. Meyer and fellow researchers refer to multitasking’s downtime as the “switch cost,” which, they say, occurs in two distinct stages: goal shifting (I want to do this instead of that) and rule activation (I’m turning off the rules for that task and switching them on for this one).
  
According to Meyer, “Not being able to concentrate ... may mean it’s costing a company as much as 20 percent to 40 percent.”  
  
These findings suggest that cleaning methods requiring workers to complete long sequences of complex and different cleaning procedures that cause "changing hats" frequently (switching from one task to another and back again) can waste employers’ time and money, raising already high labor costs.

Performance and Quality

According to a study published in the psychology journal NeuroImage, managing two mental tasks at once reduces the brainpower available for either one. This finding was further supported by research that used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, to prove brain activation is reduced up to 53 percent when subjects are asked to perform dual tasks versus being able to devote their full attention to one.

Safety

Research also shows that multitasking can pose significant safety risks, not only to those performing the activities, but to people around them as well.

In his book highlighting the potential perils of multitasking, Toxic Success, best-selling writer and U.S. Army War College lecturer Paul Pearsall maintains that one of the military's biggest concerns has been the effect of multitasking on a person's attention span, believing it makes people less alert and more prone to error. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that almost half the errors made by airplane crew members occurred because they were interrupted, distracted, or so preoccupied with one task that they ignored another.

In his research, Meyer summarized the hazards of cell phone use while driving: “It [cell phone use] draws more attention and more mental resources away from your primary task, which is driving the car: You’re more likely to have an accident.” Meyer point outs that, when driving, a mere half a second lost to task switching can mean the difference between life and death. This danger of distraction holds true on the road—and elsewhere.

In The Dangers of Multitasking, author and online healthcare instructor Jeffrey Zurlinden, RN, MS, writes: “New research shows that multitasking can be dangerous for our patients. The more we try to multitask, the greater number of mistakes we make.” According to Zurlinden, ongoing multitasking also can lead to health risks for workers themselves, including fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report on medical errors, To Err is Human, anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year due to medical errors—more than die from breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents—and the number continues to climb.

Worker Morale

Research shows that rather than make people feel more productive, multitasking often causes workers to feel they are losing control over their responsibilities—and, more generally, their lives.

Zurlinden says that multitasking can cause job dissatisfaction, mental burnout and poor job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction “depends on flow, a concentrated focus that occurs during demanding, goal-oriented activities,” he writes. “Constant interruptions interfere with flow.”

In cleaning—as in healthcare and any number of other vital industries—obtaining specific, high-quality results requires the focused attention of a well-trained staff. It is this reliance on specialized expertise that, perhaps above all else, separates approaches like Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools® (PC4HS) - and its predecessor Team Cleaning - from more generalized cleaning systems.

A limited number of duties enables workers to focus on the task at hand, and enter a state of relaxed flow, which research now shows can play a major role in overall operational performance and making the work easier and safer for workers.

Source: Adapted from an article by Jim Harris, Sr. and used with permission.