Screwing Around at Work

You Should Let Your Employees Screw Around at Work

Screwing Around at Work
Things aren’t always what they appear to be. For instance, your marketing manager may appear to be playing candy crush on Facebook when she’s actually making note of the growth hacking techniques used to gain more players of the game than there are people living in Australia (true story).

Other times, things are exactly as they appear to be… like when your marketing manager appears to be taking a Facebook IQ test and she’s actually taking a Facebook IQ test.

My point being, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at either, nor should you.

We learn things every day while at work…it’s only that it’s rarely done while we’re doing our jobs. We learn through reading blogs, through scanning our twitter feeds, from conversations with our co-workers or texts from our friends. I have long held the philosophy that if I need time for “research and development” I’m going to take it. On the clock. And I don’t feel the need to ask permission.

Why? I’m going to use the dark arts of mathematics and logic to make my case.

work-breakdownFirst, let’s make an assumption. Let’s assume that an employer is interesting in having informed employees who are well-prepared for the challenges of the future. Now, I’m going to ask you to take a small leap and agree that in order to be prepared for the future of business (whether it be in marketing, sales, engineering or medicine) a person needs to learn in an ongoing way. Still with me?

OK, so, when is this learning supposed to happen? On my personal time? What personal time?

In a 5-day week (120 hours) we spend approximately half of our waking hours (40) at work, if not more. We spend35 hours (on average) sleeping and about 5 hours commuting (if we’re lucky). I’ll do the math for you, in a best case scenario that leaves us about 40 hours of free time a week to eat meals, be with friends and family, exercise, and yell at our TVs. When are we supposed to be learning new things and developing new skills?

A clever person was once quoted as responding to the question:

What happens if we invest in our employees development and they leave us?”

With this golden nugget:

What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

If you want to attract and retain top talent, you have to treat your employees like adults (even if they barely are) and trust they have the company’s best interest at heart. Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s in the company’s best interest for an employee to take a 10-minute walk and think about things that may or may not be related to their job. Other times, you may want to allow your employees to attending line online seminars (like Google at Work’s recent Atmosphere Live or Adobe Max from the creative giant).

Allowing your employees to ‘screw around’ at work requires a shift in thinking from the old mentality of “first-in-last-to-leave” as a measurement to focusing on results.

As an example, I get in to work 20 or so minutes before most of my co-workers and I leave 30 minutes earlier than almost all of them, consistently. I go for runs on my lunch break that may spill 5 or 10 minutes past my allotted break and then I eat at my desk. Conversely, I’m infamous for after-10pm and weekend emails because I do some of my best thinking outside of the office.

Like everything in life, work is about balance. We need some time to ourselves and to pursue our interests during our 9+ hour days but in return we offer our effort, passion and any useful insights we may uncover during that personal time. Keep me happy and mentally healthy and I will give you my best when I’m focused on my core responsibilities.

Google’s Top Recruiter Shannon Deegan on Google’s “20 Percent Time” the program responsible for Gmail and AdSense (2:32)

I work in marketing. Modern marketing is digital. Digital includes social and social technology changes. Every. Single. Day. Therefore, to stay abreast of the change and deliver on-trend strategy to our partners we need to be aware of what’s going on outside of our workspaces. This means spending some time screwing around at work.

This isn’t a concept that is unique to marketing. All industries from hospitality to medicine to transportation are being filled up on their heads and disrupted. If you want your company to succeed you need employees who understand where the world and your industry is headed. Let them read. Let them talk. Let them tinker. It’s funny to think that some of the things that got me in trouble in school are the very same things that help me to make my living now (sketching, drawing, writing, daydreaming).

In conclusion

I thought suggesting you should encourage your employees to screw around might get you to click on this article. If you want, you can instead say experiment or research through play. Whatever works. The main point here is that not all time spent away from an employees’ core responsibilities is wasted time. Find the right people and they will spend their time optimizing their minds and bodies to be their best.

Some of the things I spend my time screwing around at work doing:

– Learning Spanish (via Duolingo – check it out!!)
– Talking to my co-workers about side projects
– Drinking coffee with the design team
– Eating donuts on Wednesdays (Create Your *ss Off Wednesdays)
– Doing push-ups “for a cause” on Fridays (cause: muscles)
– Reading my twitter feed full of marketing and design prodigy’s
– Avoiding political debates on Facebook
– Playing with mobile app-controlled robots from Double Robotics
– Watching TED talks or listening to Harper Reed speak
– Tinkering with Google Glass (working in technology ain’t bad)

I hope you enjoyed this look at why I think it’s important to spend some of your time at work away from the TPS reports. I’d love to hear your thoughts about why I’m a moron, genius or somewhere in between.

3 thoughts on “You Should Let Your Employees Screw Around at Work

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