Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Public Address System Distractions:

Our fitness Center has a Public Address system. A typical announcement goes like this: “Attention all staff. Attention all staff. Alex, please pick up the phone.”
All messages are for staff, but I always listen to them. I used to work at a company that had a PAS and almost never used it. The managers felt that every announcement would cause at least 150 people to lose their train of thought for a few minutes, a productivity cost of over $1,000 per message. I don't agree with them, but I do agree that public announcements ARE distracting.

In the current case, part of the distraction, for me, is a recurring question: why say “Attention all staff”? when the message isn't for all staff, it's just for Alex Hepplemonger? Why not just say, “Alex Hepplemonger, pick up the phone!” But we know that wouldn't work. Alex H. would miss his name, not paying attention, and meanwhile, some new customer, Alex Oberlander, would rush to the desk to ask if the call was for him. I've decided to assume that, in effect, these PAS announcements really mean the same as this: “Alex Allstaff, Alex Allstaff, pick up the phone.”


JSoroko said...

Not entirely sure that's true. Police officers can carry on complicated conversations with heavy radio traffic muted in the background, and pick out - without directly paying attention - their own callsigns, calls that have urgent codes associated with them. But it's a practiced skill. Same in department stores - where audio signaling systems (using chimes, or an operator reading numbers out) are entirely missed by customers amid the noise of the store - but noticed immediately by people listening for them.

But it can certainly become ignorable noise.

Jon Soroko

tobyr21@gmail.com said...

I'm also not sure it's true that PA announcements waste so much time. But a radio channel in the background is different from a PA system that comes to life only once an hour; it's less expected, and could be more distracting.
- PB