Multitasking is a part of everyday home life but increasingly a part of the workplace as well - as in anything, not all people will be suited to it.   How workers feel about multitasking and how they have adapted to it (or will) may influence their job satisfaction and the likelihood of quitting, an important factor in hiring decisions.

A new study led by Elizabeth Poposki, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis presents a new tool developed to measure preference for multitasking, information which may be of interest to bosses who tire of repeatedly hiring and training new employees.  They call it the Multitasking Preference Inventory (MPI) in a study published in Human Performance.

"Multitasking has now become an important component of job performance for a growing number of professions - air traffic controllers, 911 operators, taxi drivers, receptionists and countless others. We found that individuals who prefer to work on multiple tasks simultaneously enjoy the experience of multitasking more. This finding may sound like common sense, but if we have a tool to assess who will enjoy multitasking and who will not, we may be able to do a better job of selecting employees who will flourish in jobs requiring multitasking," said Poposki. 

Poposki notes that our current understanding of multitasking is relatively poor. Although many people believe that multitasking involves doing multiple things at once, the performance of multiple tasks actually requires the rapid shifting of attention among ongoing tasks.

"Neuroscientists tell us that the human brain is incapable of doing two things at once. What we do when we multitask is switch back and forth between tasks in a manner similar to how a computer goes back and forth between programs," said Poposki.

As multitasking becomes more prevalent in society and workplaces, a better understanding of which workers prefer to work on multiple tasks simultaneously may ultimately aid in practical issues such as staff selection and retention.  
Next, she plans to use the new measuring tool in an attempt to predict job satisfaction and turnover among emergency response workers who multitask throughout their shifts. 

Citation: Elizabeth M. Poposki, Frederick L. Oswald, 'The Multitasking Preference Inventory: Toward an Improved Measure of Individual Differences in Polychronicity', Human Performance, 1532-7043, Volume 23, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 247 – 264 DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2010.487843