How On-the-Job Distractions Can Actually Drive High Performance

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Oct 15, 2014

It sounds counterintuitive, but an office environment with the right mix of distractions is actually a part of a high performance culture.

The reason is simple – we don’t have the mental endurance to consistently work straight through the business day.

Supporting this, research continues to show that adding breaks to your workday is essential for staying productive. Further, not only does it protect you against burnout in the short and long-term, it also enhances your ability to innovate.

Not just for startups

Many companies, especially startups, have harnessed this fact by offering fun and unique ways to encourage their employees to take breaks. For example, here at PerformYard we have a Ping-Pong table. I’ve also seen companies with foosball tables, collections of Nerf guns or dartboards.

Unfortunately, older, larger companies can take the wrong message from this. Since this trend is largely championed by startups, it can be seen as a recruitment tool, embraced by companies trying to project a cool image.

What can be lost in this, however, is that startups, often functioning on bare bones budgets, rely on employees working over capacity for their success, much more so than they do just by looking cool. As a result, providing fun distractions is really more about the long-term benefits.

Additionally, if your chosen distraction is a team game like pool or foosball, you’ll be building a stronger team by promoting bonding among employees that play the games together.

What should and shouldn’t worry you

While there are several good reasons for this approach, ultimately, there are two roadblocks – one that shouldn’t bother you, and another that should, but can be fixed.

  • Concern No. 1: “If I bring a video game system into the office, I’m worried that my team will spend more time playing than they will doing actual work.

If this is really a concern that you have, it likely says more about how you are recruiting and hiring new employees than anything else. If you’re recruiting highly driven, mature professionals, they already know that they stand a much higher chance of advancing their career by focusing on doing good work.

Trust in your process and your team, and don’t worry about their ability to manage their time. If and when you find an employee spending too much time away from their desks, you can handle it, and my bet is that you won’t discover new poor performers due to your decision to bring a game into the office.

Concern No. 2:What if I invest money and office space in a Ping-Pong table and nobody uses it?

I think it’s actually much more likely that your employees won’t immediately immerse themselves in the distraction that you provide. A fun distraction at work will probably be a new thing for much of your team, and convincing them that it isn’t some elaborate trick will take some work.

The solution to this has two steps.

First, when you decide that you want to provide this kind of amenity at work, and I think there’s sufficient research supporting that decision, be sure to involve a handful of your employees at all levels in your decision on the type of distraction. This will help ensure that you’ve selected something that everyone will enjoy.

Second, show your employees that you encourage them to take breaks by getting involved yourself in the game as soon as you can. Your employees will feel more comfortable taking breaks themselves, and you might see a boost in your own productivity.

Don’t do it to be cool

So go ahead, take the leap and bring a game of some kind into your office as a part of your drive to create a high performance culture.

Just don’t do it because you want to be cool. Do it because you want your company to be productive.

This originally appeared on the blog

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