Surfing the web, interacting via social media and chatting by the water cooler can help you become a better employee.
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Certain workplace “distractions” — such as social media and text messaging — can cost companies of more than 1,000 employees up to $10 million per year, according to one recent study.
Yet by not allowing employees the freedom to think outside the box, organizations may hinder the creative atmosphere and lose even more dollars. After all, products like Gmail and AdSense were formed via Google’s 20 percent “Innovation Time Off” policy, where employees are allowed to work on projects outside their job description for a fifth of the workday (or work week or work month).
The word “break” has negative connotations, assuming that taking one will break your concentration or productivity. But employees need to feel comfortable and empowered to reenergize their mind or explore the boundaries of their job description, which — while maybe against work policy — can be an agent for enhancing effectiveness and breeding new ideas.
Now, this isn’t an excuse to stalk your ex-boyfriend on Twitter all day. Still, your boss may want to reconsider his or her attitude and policy toward these three simple, but all-too-often discouraged, activities:
Perform a social media or web blitz
Checking social networking sites can help you find vital information, relieve stress and build collaboration with other industry professions, one study reports. The key is not abusing these privileges and instead Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms to connect with the right individuals and organizations.
Do you use Twitter lists? Create one for organizations and experts in your field and limit your workday tweet activity to checking that particular group. There are hundreds of LinkedIn groups in each field, where you can read about what your audience wants and needs or learn from other professionals.
You can also “like” similar organizations on Facebook and learn how they utilize the site in their PR strategy. If it appears to be working for them, employ it at your own organization — and if it’s not your job, suggest it to the correct department.
If you’re a fan of browsing the web for new ideas or inspiration, then you’re also in luck. One study showed general web surfing can aid productivity as well – not to mention, you never know what interesting content you might literally stumble upon.
Embrace watercooler chat
Socializing helps us forge connections, which are no doubt an important part of life. After all, you will be happier at work if you make at least one friend.
But maybe you ought to spend even more time by the watercooler or coffee pot?
One study showed that those who engaged in idle chatter at work have the highest productivity. The study’s author, Alex Pentland, Ph.D., explains, “What you’re learning implicitly and tacitly from chatting is how to manage your life in job situations. Part of that is about actual job issues, but a lot of it is about your attitude toward the job and your attitude toward other people.”
Pentland adds that some of these face-to-face interactions will form connections across the organization. We’re more likely to talk with who we click with, not just those in our own departments. Maybe you’ll learn something new about the company and its projects — and perhaps you’ll even see a new way to collaborate with that group?
Eat out and don’t feel guilty
Almost everyone gets a lunch break. But how many people actually get up and eat away from their desk, setting pressing work aside?
Nearly half of U.S. workers say they now take shorter or fewer lunch breaks during the day. The excuses vary, from “I have too much work” to “No one else does,” to feeling discouraged or wanting to leave early.
Yet taking a lunch break can actually improve your productivity and reenergize you for the remainder of the day. Trying to work through an eight-hour, or longer, day without food or physical exercise can lead to burnout, fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm.
The Energy Project;s “Take Back Your Lunch” campaign has more tips and articles about why it’s important to step away for a while.
And Brazen Life’s Kelly Gurnett has plenty of suggestions for what to do if you brought your lunch, but desire a break anyway.
If you work in an environment where skipping lunch is typical, then why not ask a mid-level colleague to join you? It could help make stepping out less intimidating and socially accepted.
Despite popular belief, each of these activities may be an aid, not barrier, to your success at work. Just remember, everything in moderation.