A manager’s guide: why downtime and office rituals boost productivity
If there’s a staff turnover issue in your office, then it’s a serious problem that needs addressing. People leave managers and not companies. It may be time you gave your management techniques an overhaul.
There’s a fine balance to be had between looking after your staff and increasing productivity. Bringing your team closer together is sometimes easier said than done. Embracing new ways to keep morale at a high could bring more benefits than you think, and it’s not always the obvious pay check and bonus that will do the trick.
Here, independent business writer D. Murphey has taken a look at the upside of downtime and office rituals as part of a research project into office behaviours – researching various news sites, respectable staff management sites like Planday and some of the social profiles of recognised authorities in the field.
It’s an area that’s often left out of management plans, but it’s one that you’ll be surprised to learn actually works.
Downtime: why regular breaks actually increases creativity and productivity
Heavy workloads and never-ending to-do lists make it hard for us to focus on the need for downtime. When you have a team who need to carry un-taken leave over into the next year, then you are more than likely heading for disaster. No matter how big the bonus, people are not machines. Continually keeping your teams’ noses to the grindstone for the sake of productivity will end up in resentment, burn out and the inevitable staff turnover.
And it’s not just leave days that are important. Regular breaks during the working day can have a dramatic impact on productivity levels, as well as morale. There are numerous studies supporting the benefits of regular downtime. It’s not hard to understand how intense and prolonged working practices are equated with less focus and more mistakes. Frequent breaks throughout the day actually increases productivity and creativity, and decreases stress.
Here are some facts around the benefits of taking regular breaks as outlined by the onlinebuisnessdegree.org
- Micro-breaks for as little as 30 seconds and up to 5 minutes improves mental acuity.
- 15-second breaks from computer screens every 10 minutes reduces fatigue.
- Those who spend a small amount of their time surfing the web or checking social media are actually more productive than those who don’t.
- Taking a 5-minute break every hour helps eliminate discomfort and pain associated with prolonged computer use.
- Breaks are more effective when taken before they are needed.
- Taking regular breaks of just 2 minutes increases productivity by as much as 11.5 per cent.
There are 3 good reasons why breaks boost productivity and creativity:
- The human brain wasn’t designed for extended focus. But all it needs is a brief interruption to get it back on course. Studies in recent years show that mental focus works in the same way as sensory perception. University of Illinois psychology professor, Alejandro Lleras, found that regular breaks in a study of 84 people carrying out a computerised task, showed performance was unimpaired in the group who took regular breaks.
Continued overexposure to a sight, sound or feeling causes the brain to stop registering it. Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, and that includes sustained attention on a task at work.
- Creativity and problem-solving is activated when we day-dream. A study by the University of British Columbia found that the brain areas associated with complex problem-solving are actually highly active when we daydream. The study noted that “the quantity and quality of brain activity suggests that people struggling to solve complicated problems might be better off switching to a simpler task and letting their mind wander.”
- Taking a step back helps us to re-evaluate the task in hand and make sure we are approaching it in the best way. Working on a task continuously can lead to fatigue and a loss of focus. A short break can help bring focus to the bigger picture and a consequent efficiency in completing the task.
Office rituals: cultivating team culture
It’s not difficult to make the connection between a happy team and a productive office. While rituals such as a lucky shirt have long been common amongst gamblers and sports figures, researchers are finding that office rituals are helping with productivity in the office too.
According to research at the Harvard Business School, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, rituals learned and performed as a group in the office make staff feel closer and more connected, and team performance is boosted as a result.
Cultivating a team culture requires some effort on the part of managers. Office rituals go some way to helping staff feel included in business goals, and they don’t need to be complicated or costly.
Here are some great ideas for adding rituals to your team’s working week:
- Team lunches
- Celebrate victories and staff achievements
- Get active together – the office stretch
- Friday is cake day
- Annual celebration – BBQ, lunch, day out
- Monday morning meetings
- Friday afternoon meetings
- Birthday celebrations
- Friday at 4 happy hour
- Dress-down or dress-up day
Breaks, daydreaming and office rituals are officially good for business.