Mitigating the Effects of Interruption on Audit Efficiency and Effectiveness

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation examined the effects of interruption on auditor efficiency and effectiveness for one simple and two complex tasks within the audit domain. I evaluated these effects for novice and experienced auditors. In addition, I considered two ways in which the negative effects of interruption might be mitigated: varying an individual's interruption response strategy (immediate vs. negotiated) and the presence or absence of a memory-aid (notes). I investigated these phenomena using an internet-based experimental instrument. Subjects included both students and practicing auditors.

My findings indicate that interruption hindered performance on certain complex audit tasks, and that it differentially affected auditor performance at two levels of experience. When interrupted, inexperienced auditors completed complex audit tasks less efficiently; experienced auditors completed them less effectively. In addition, experienced auditors who negotiated interruption completed a complex audit task more efficiently and effectively than those that responded to the interruption immediately. Furthermore, note-taking increased experienced auditor task efficiency on a complex audit task requiring judgment. These results suggest that auditors should limit task interruption when they are engaged in complex audit tasks. When task interruption cannot be avoided, auditors should consider negotiating a delay in the onset of an interruption. Finally, auditors who are interrupted while they complete a complex task requiring judgment should consider using notes to mitigate the deleterious effect of interruption on task efficiency.

Participants also completed a post-experimental questionnaire which provided evidence about interruptions in the audit environment. The responses confirmed that auditors are frequently interrupted in practice. In addition, auditors preferred differing interruption response strategies dependent upon both the level of primary task complexity (easy vs. difficult), and the medium through which the interruption occurred (electronic vs. interpersonal). They chose interruption response strategies according to their place in the social hierarchy relative to the interrupter (client/boss vs. subordinate /friends/family).

Finally, I found that interruption influences affect. Auditors reported significantly more positive affect reactions to interruption on easy tasks (e.g., alert, cheerful, friendly, happy and relaxed) and substantially negative affect reactions to interruption on difficult tasks (e.g., angry, hostile, irritated, nervous and tense).



interruption, audit efficiency, mitigating interruption effects, audit effectiveness