sleeping-32750_640Distinguishing between what is work and what is play has been made more difficult with the advances in technology, particularly the boom in mobile apps and devices. As with any new technology, there is a responsibility attached to using it by the employee. There are more than a few employees who take advantage of smartphones to play Angry Birds. (Wait. That game is last week’s news.)

All Work And No Play May Not Be Good

But also in last week’s news are employers who continue to believe that all game play, whatever its variation, is unproductive. While it is true that the employee is not doing work-related activities, that game may be the necessary diversion they need to be more productive throughout the day. Recent research has indicated that giving the brain a number of tasks actually promotes creativity and productivity, two qualities managers seek from their top performers.

It is essential that managers have control over the working environments and habits of employees in the office to make sure the work gets done. Adding technology to the mix makes that goal more difficult for many managers. But while there will always be those who try to do nothing, there are a growing number of people who connect work and play through technology. What appears to be laziness actually is a primer for productivity.

A Break Helps You To Concentrate

One type of work that falls into this category is work that requires long term concentration. We are not talking YouTube attention spans of three minutes. Employees in research and development are one group who perform more efficiently when their minds are able to be distracted for short periods of time. This is particularly true when the task requires understanding material that is dense. Whether in front of a computer monitor or poring over the archaic but still necessary paper research journal, the eyes and mind can wander because the brain is overtired. There is the potential for employees actually being less productive and creative if they push themselves to the point where they continue to work but nothing productive comes of it.

Management can easily discover who is doing what with this productive downtime. Using an employee’s previous work history as a benchmark, compare the results between a more relaxed company policy of playtime and the former policy. Provide a time and even a space for employees to mentally play without fear of retribution. The best people will use the time to become better performers by mentally decompressing.

Flexibility Is The Key

Providing playtime for everyone may not be the answer in many cases. Here is where management needs to be flexible with the individual employee to get the greatest productivity from him or her. Studies have shown that multitasking is highly overrated. While there are some people who have the ability to multitask well, most people produce higher quality work when being able to focus on one task at a time. For those in the minority, allowing them to work on multiple projects at the same time and providing the freedom to switch between tasks without being micromanaged is the best way to increase morale and productivity.
Similar to people who thrive under pressure, these highly productive multitaskers have the potential to be an asset to the company and co-workers if used correctly. Their mental downtime is used to shift focus from one task to another after losing interest in the initial task.

The key to unlocking the potential of an employee may lie in discovering how they use technology to mentally distract themselves for short periods of time. Many of the smartphone apps are short duration games that can be considered to be mindless. Sometimes that is where an employee’s mind needs to be to continue to be productive. The length of the duration of mindlessness will tell management the difference between downtime and wasted time.