Mobile phones, multi-tasking and never-ending obligations: are we biting more than we can chew?

Note this word: Cognitive Neuroergonomics.

That is a mouthful, I know. Every shortcut or convenience we bring to our lives could ultimately result in a net negative impact in the end. This is true in the case of mobile phones, uninterrupted availability and the expectation that your team must constantly look at their phones. Expecting your team to be polyvalent may be fair, but multitasking or having to have divided concentration and attention can result in substandard performance and unhealthy stress.

What most of us remember from our undergrad research lectures is to differentiate between correlation and causation. Two things may be correlated (happening simultaneously), but that does not mean one caused the other. Some of us might say that we can bring in the same argument to the question of more burnout at work correlating to a greater emphasis on multi-tasking, polyvalence and information overload, but can we really? Evidence suggests that burnout is caused by stress and cognitive overload.

According to Gallup analytics, these are the top 5 causes of burnout:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Unclear communication from managers
  • Lack of manager support
  • Unreasonable time pressure

Number 2 and number 5 are directly related to how much work we ask our team to do and how much time they stay engaged in that work. Both these factors have mobile phones and constant connectivity as the greatest contributor enabling the heavy workload and long hours. Mobile phones blur the line between what is personal and professional. You may be at home, winding down and checking your Instagram feed to see what your friends are up to, and suddenly, there is a frenzy of activity in the work-related Viber or Whatsapp groups. You may want to just find out what the commotion is but end up


Cognitive neuroergonomics is a field of study that focuses on understanding how the brain processes and responds to different types of work tasks, environments, and technologies. It aims to improve the design of work systems and environments in order to optimize the performance and well-being of workers.

Employee burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to demanding work environments. It is characterized by a range of negative symptoms, such as feelings of cynicism, detachment, and reduced accomplishment, as well as physical symptoms such as fatigue and decreased immune function.

There is a strong link between employee burnout and cognitive neuroergonomics, as the factors contributing to burnout often involve issues related to the design of work systems and environments. For example, workers who are required to perform highly demanding tasks without sufficient resources or support may be more prone to burnout. Similarly, workers who are subjected to high levels of stress, such as those working in high-stakes environments, may be more likely to experience burnout.

By studying the cognitive and neural processes involved in burnout, cognitive neuroergonomics can help to identify and address the underlying causes of burnout and develop strategies to prevent it. This may involve redesigning work systems and environments to better support workers, providing training and resources to help workers cope with demanding tasks, and implementing interventions to reduce stress and promote well-being.


Mobile phones keep us connected. We are ‘available’ 24/7 and there is often no respite from the rat race we call life. This small device we carry with us everywhere we go forces us to juggle many things at once mentally.

My wife receives and attends to work-related calls past 10 pm at night, and according to her, everyone is expected to answer their phones. I had the same conversation with one of my friends who looks after the administration of a school. He said that staff and parents feel that it is OK to call someone after 9 or 10 pm for school-related queries, but he does not entertain these calls. He asks the callers to call during office hours the next day. Culture is the norm that we accept, accommodate and entertain over time in our interaction with others.

We are slowly but surely blurring the line between public and private lives when we call others and allow others to call us outside office hours.


About Hassan Saeed

I am a lifelong learner. I learn every day and I learn from everybody I interact with - I live with this simple philosophy. My goal is to help spread knowledge and information that helps people get better every day. Learning should fit into everyone's daily routine. Learning should empower individuals to achieve more and drive them towards excellence and perfection.
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1 Response to Mobile phones, multi-tasking and never-ending obligations: are we biting more than we can chew?

  1. Mohamed Raaneem Ahmed says:

    These devices and social media applications are designed to extract as many hours of our attention. They are in the attention economy.


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