How on-the-job distractions can drive high performance

Diversions like air hockey or a bumper pool table can give hardworking staffers a needed break, leaving them refreshed and ready to solve tough problems or come up with brilliant ideas.

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 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 unusual 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.

Older, larger companies sometimes take the wrong message from this, unfortunately. Given that 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, however, is that startups, often functioning on bare-bones budgets, rely on employees’ working way over capacity for their success. As a result, providing fun distractions is really more about the long-term benefits.

Additionally, if your chosen distraction is a team game like 8-ball or foosball, you’ll be building a stronger team by promoting bonding among employees.

What should and shouldn’t worry you

Though there are several good reasons for this approach, there are two roadblocks—one that shouldn’t bother you, and another that should, but which 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 probably says more about how you are recruiting and hiring than anything else. If you’re recruiting highly driven, mature professionals, they already know that they stand a much higher chance of advancing in their careers 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 you find some employees spending too much time away from their desks, you can handle it. My bet is that your decision to bring a game into the office won’t bring slackers out of the woodwork.

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

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 workplace amenity—and there’s sufficient research supporting that decision—involve a handful of your employees at all levels in your decision on which type of distraction it will be. This will help ensure that you’ve selected something that most, if not all, 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 solely because you want to be cool. Do it because you want your company to be productive.

John Scott is a customer success manager for PerformYard. You can connect with him at @PerformYard and on the PerformYard blog. A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.

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