Unproductive Employees Are Good For Business.

It’s almost become a cliché in the software industry to see ping pong tables and breakfast bars in company kitchens, all in the name of employee engagement and landing in GlassDoor’s list of best places to work. This post is for those who can’t wrap their heads around why. On the surface, it seems like not much more than a hokey PR move. How could encouraging distracting activities increase productivity in the workplace?

Basically, it comes down to taking a break. When I say this, I mean: periodically engaging in intentionally unproductive activities throughout the day.

Your brain just didn’t evolve to sit behind a desk for 7 to 12 hours a day. We’re really good at focusing in short bursts, not so good at sustaining that focus over time. This goes back to the classic example of when our ancestors had to be ever-vigilant of what was happening in their environment. Our attention (focus) is designed to help us perform in activities like hunting down our next meal, or avoiding becoming something else’s next meal. We didn’t need to focus on those tasks for 7 hours a day, and the breaks in-between those activities allowed us to perform at our best when we most needed to. In fact, in a study done by the University of Illinois, taking short, sporadic breaks when performing a task increased subjects’ performance at that task. This is backed up byeven more research published this year by researchers out of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas. This study found that short, frequent breaks early in the day make for the most effective work.

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