October 5th, 2015

Sometimes your employees really are on their break

Photo Credit: Kris Krug

Photo Credit: Kris Krug

One of the biggest concerns of any employer in the digital age is the ease with which employees can become distracted, wasting their time browsing Facebook, which in turn is wasting your time – and your money. But a new studies shows employers may be (a little bit) more lenient when it comes to giving employees a break.

According to adult psychiatrist and author Shimi Kang, restorative downtime is critical for physical and mental health. Breaks can be moments of breakthroughs whereby certain biological processes occur during moments of relaxed wakefulness, she says.

Productivity, problem-solving, attention, creativity and morality are all strengthened and improved when people are properly rested.

Another modern myth to employee monitoring is that an open office concept, whereby co-workers can easily interact with one another, is more conducive to working harder, as it’s more difficult to get away with “slacking off” under the watchful eyes of your peers.

However, a 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that actually create poor productivity and lower work performance. Nearly half of surveyed workers in open offices cited a lack of sound privacy as a reason, while others said visual privacy was also a problem.

As for being able to “easily interact” with co-workers, the flip side of that coin is that the least productive individuals tend to harangue the time of busier colleagues.

All of this means that an employee in a private office or cubicle who is wearing headphones and listening to music may not be as unproductive as he or she appears. The music provides a mental break to the strain of the job, while breaking visual or noise distractions with other employees.

Ultimately you can expect a boost from the workers’ attention span, creative thinking, productivity, and their own sense of job satisfaction.

There’s a point of diminishing returns, though. Downtime or isolation from distractions does not give an employee license to simply waste time, counting the hours to quitting time.

An employee who spends time enjoyably will recharge their energy levels and motivate them to continue working, while an employee who mindlessly surfs the Internet is in danger of becoming apathetic and even more tired.

Like most things in life, it’s about finding a balance between the need to take a break from both work and co-workers, without falling prey to the almighty “procrastination” monster.