3 Reasons Why Books@Work Makes More Productive Teams

3 Reasons Why Books@Work Makes More Productive Teams

In the quest for workplace productivity, focusing on breaks may seem counterintuitive. But the research is clear: regular breaks provide a needed respite from the daily grind. But not any old break is effective. Evidence from a wide variety of Books@Work programs confirm that breaks that still engage the brain – albeit in different ways – provide outsized benefits. In a Books@Work break, colleagues engage in crucial conversations around important, difficult-to-discuss issues. They practice critical team skills and learn to connect on a more human level.

Industries of California mural at Coit Tower

Industries of California mural at Coit Tower, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

In a world focused on outcomes and accountability, we ignore the transformative power of breaks at our peril. Insights from hundreds of Books@Work participants reveal three concrete reasons why taking a break to discuss a piece of literature with colleagues is just the productivity boost your organization needs.

It provides a needed sense of renewal and energy.

Even the most important work can be mind-numbing. We think and rethink the same problems, we tackle mountains of data and we search for innovative solutions in the same places. It’s no wonder we feel like our ability to think critically ebbs and flows. On those days, we need a chance to reset our brains to return to work with a renewed sense of energy.

One participant working in a large manufacturing business provides a picture:

“Books@Work is such a nice change of pace. It’s a hectic day, every day for my job. . . I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed the stop, to slow down and purge everything from my mind and all the numbers running through my head and think on a literary basis, because I don’t get to strengthen those muscles. It’s calming. It’s refreshing. It really revitalizes my brain, just thinking in a different way. Sometimes I’m so jazzed when I come out.”  

It encourages you to think in new and creative ways.

Maxine Greene, a legendary educational philosopher, once said that discussing stories provides “a deliberate break with the habitual, the routine, the ordinary.” She knew that such a break allows people “to see afresh” because literature unlocks the imagination and moves us from the confines of the present place and time. A participant in another manufacturing company shared that Books@Work allowed her a new outlet for creative thinking:

“Taking breaks in the middle of your day is only going to make you more productive. . . [As] engineers, we tend to get really nit-picky, and we see things a certain way. Using your brain in a different way allows you to be creative and think about things in different ways. Your brain is a muscle [and we need to] exercise it. And if you can have an outlet to be creative in a new way. . . it just gets you thinking in that mindset.”

It provides an opportunity for deeper social connection with colleagues.

Reading provides a chance for solitary reflection as each reader meets new characters, explores new places or confronts new dilemmas. But Books@Work participants stress that the social aspect of discussing literature – “the chance to share with others our own experiences,” as one participant said –  offers the most valuable benefit. Enhanced social connection fosters workplace wellness, lubricates the channels for authentic inclusion and boosts the efficacy of teams.

“[Books@Work] is just a communal activity that has nothing to do with work. It’s nothing to do with business, nothing to do with numbers. If I can add beauty to any environment, it’s a good thing for morale – to have that break in the week just to get your mind thinking about something else and bond with your teammates in a way that isn’t work-related. You learn about yourself and they learn about you. When you go back to the floor, your spirits just feel better.”

Participants’ repeated emphasis on the pleasure of a genuine break in the day reinforces Maxine Greene’s insight that breaking away from the sameness of the work day can empower people by unleashing their “mind, imagination and sensibility.” Books@Work provides evidence that a meaningful break – beyond the proverbial coffee break or water cooler conversation – has tangible and powerful business impact and a direct impact on productivity.

Image: Camille Pissarro, Haymakers Resting, 1891, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX, USA, [Public Domain] via WikiArt.org

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Ann Kowal Smith

Ann Kowal Smith


Ann Kowal Smith is the Founder and Executive Director of Books@Work.

Karen Nestor

Karen Nestor

In more than four decades as an educator, Karen Nestor has taught at every level from early childhood through graduate school. Karen is a member of the Board of Books@Work.

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan is a Development Communications Associate at the Cleveland Orchestra and a part-time member of the Books@Work team. She continues to write posts for our blog.