The following is an excerpt from Mindspace’s upcoming ebook, The Innovator’s Learning and Development Checklist: How to Create a Culture of Learning, a guide to creating more effective and memorable learning experiences to cultivate a company culture of learning.
We assure you, reading about wasting time will not be a waste of your time. According to a recent Gallup report, the average full-time employee works nearly 47 hours per week. With hours like that, it should be no surprise that many employees feel perfectly justified taking the occasional unscheduled break—an extra smoke break, a trip to the restroom that somehow involves ten minutes hanging out at their best friend’s desk, or the occasional ‘quick’ Facebook check.
We all need these kind of short distractions—especially when working so many hours. I confess, halfway through writing this article, I stopped to play a card game on my phone. And when I was finished, I felt recharged. Ready to blast through the rest of this article in record time!
Wasting time can easily get out of hand. Every company would prefer their employees remained focused and hardworking all day—many even have strict consequences in place to prevent excess time wasting. Despite their best efforts, 89% of employees report wasting at least a half-hour at work every day.
So how can we combat this excessive time wasting? Maybe the better question is, how can we get the most out of wasted time? By accepting that time wasting is going to happen, you can take control of that non-productive time and turn it into something beneficial for the employee and your company. A recent Baylor University study found that employees who took frequent, short breaks not only experienced better health and job satisfaction, but were also more likely to look for ways to engage with the company outside of their assigned tasks.
At Mindspace, we’ve created a culture that allows the freedom for personal development, and that’s made our team more productive. The same principals can easily be applied to any company, using any (or all) of the following strategies.
Strategy 1: Provide Structured Distraction
Plenty of companies have already seen the value of providing structured distraction. I used to work for a company with an arcade room just off the cafeteria. You would occasionally find an employee playing their favorite racing game or the marketing team playing a highly competitive game of Golden Tee. At first glance, this might have looked like a lot of people wasting time on the company dime; but it was actually a highly effective team building experience, encouraging friendly competition within a highly competitive team. It’s practice for working as a team and accomplishing goals that work in the game room and can be brought to client projects.
Even if team building isn’t a high priority, the ability to blow off steam provides important benefits by recharging employees’ energy for projects and preventing mistakes due to fatigue and burnout. Providing structured distractions gives them the outlet they need in an easy-to-monitor fashion.
The key is to do more than just set up some video games and call it a day. You need to do more than check off the box for ‘structured distractions’. Encourage breaks, competitions or games that aren’t directly related to jobs. These structured distractions can prevent employees from turning into worker drone zombies and get them thinking in new ways.
Strategy 2: Encourage Company-Wide Interactions
Video games are fun, but an easier way to see the benefits of spending time on non-work related activities is in programming that contributes to your employees’ development and continued self-improvement. Every company wants a smarter, more creative and confident workforce. Instead of trying to stop wasted time, take that time and make it work for your employees’ benefit.
This is something new hire trainers are often really good at. Did you ever have to do an office scavenger hunt? At first, you probably thought it was just a way for your trainer to sneak in an extra coffee break. But look at all the learning that went on during that “non-work-related” activity. It was likely your first opportunity to truly “experience” your new surroundings, directly interact with people outside of your training class, and develop a richer understanding of what working for the company really means.
These same types of interactive activities can easily be implemented after new hire training is over. Scavenger hunts, quiz games, and other company or department-wide competitions encourage continued learning and collaboration. When employees break out of their work silos, ideas and information are more easily shared between departments, making everyone more efficient. They’re also an effective strategy for getting employees on their feet, moving around, and reenergizing.
Of course, I should again add a word of warning. These types of activities are most effective when they provide a true break. If you make them mandatory or too rigid, employees will only engage as much as they need to in order to get back to their real work. Make them fun and optional, and your employees should want to participate.
Strategy 3: Turn Distraction Into Experimentation
Employees who work repetitive jobs can easily lose moral and go into autopilot mode. Without any outlets that make employees feel like they are growing and progressing, they will eventually move on to a more fulfilling job. That’s why experimentation is so important. The natural desire to explore curiosity can not only keep moral high, but it could lead employees to new discoveries that make them perform their new job netter.
You can do this in a number of ways. Many company have introduced shadowing programs, where employees can spend a day working alongside a colleague from another department, learning what they do or how their team runs. Others have a similar swapping program, where individuals from different departments switch places for the day. Both of these give employees a chance to explore other areas of interest, whether they’re looking for a new career or just want to expand their knowledge, providing opportunities for upward mobility and promoting inter-team cooperation.
You might also subscribe to industry-specific publications or web resources and circulate them around the office. This way, employees can easily browse topics that interest them in short chunks and learn new things about their industry. Be sure to reward learning and experimentation by setting up a meeting or an inspiration board in the break room where people can share new knowledge they’ve gained.
Better yet, provide your employees complete freedom to pursue their own passions. For years, companies like 3M and Google have allowed employees to use portions of their paid work day to pursue their own passions, and this freedom has led to some of their biggest developments, from Post-It Notes to Gmail. Providing time for employees to experiment, get lost on Wikipedia, or engage their colleagues in non-task-related conversations sends the message that your company values learning at all levels—and it could lead to your next big breakthrough.
As employees are allowed the freedom to explore ideas and interests, they will begin connecting those ideas back to their role, promoting innovation. Imagine a few of your employees discover an online course on HTML basics during a break. Coding isn’t part of their job, but they’ve always wanted to build a website. If your company encourages learning, you could provide time and resources for them to do the online course. Maybe those employees will never use what they learned on the job. It can still benefit the company. Those employees will feel accomplished, have a better understanding of a different department and a more positive outlook that they will learn and grow while at this job. Or maybe that course ignites something in one of those employees. They throw themselves into learning more, and eventually becomes one of the top developers in the company. Either way, the company and employees benefit.
Providing these kinds of educational opportunities requires the training team to work with employees and department leaders to development varied and exciting learning opportunities. You may need to outsource course creation, or look for programs that offer lessons your employees may find interesting. But the payoff will be immediate and have long-lasting benefits for your company.
By providing employees with quick opportunities to learn and the freedom to ‘waste’ time pursuing their own interests, you are helping to create a culture of learning, in which employees look forward to coming to work each day where they can challenge themselves with learning new skills and finding innovative ways to contribute their new-found knowledge to the company’s success.
Edited by Josh Gordon, Senior Copywriter and Content Strategist at Mindspace
Art by Kyle Davila, Senior Art Director at Mindspace