Too often managers believe that increasing productivity requires keeping employees focused on their work. Two recent studies have shown that sometimes a different approach can deliver the desired results.
One study performed in Japan and the other at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that when employees take breaks together, there are noticeable improvements to productivity. These studies are particularly significant as the increased use of email, Facebook, and other social media for communication has dramatically decreased the number of face-to-face interactions in offices in recent years.
The Japanese study, published in the journal Mind, Brain and Education, tracked the workflow of an underperforming team in a call center. By requiring all members of the team to take their break together, their productivity was increased by 13 percent.
The MIT study similarly took place in a call center. In this case, the organization reworked its schedule so that all employees were released on break at the same time. The increase in productivity was so significant that the organization adopted the revised schedule full-time and expects an annual $15 million boost to sales.
I find these studies especially important in light of the fact that, in many organizations, employees will IM or email each other when the distance between their desks is less than 10 feet.
You may be one of the many managers who, when seeing employees chatting at the water cooler (or these days it’s the Keurig machine), assume valuable time is being “wasted.” These studies suggest that leaders should encourage conversations during working hours, as this increases knowledge sharing and builds greater team collaborations. To the extent that managers can encourage an equal contribution to the discussion from all team members, rather than allowing domination by one or two persons, productivity will also be enhanced.
I encourage managers to remember the power of face-to-face peer interaction to boost learning and improve team productivity.