How Creating a Workplace Reading Culture Can Benefit Businesses
For Book Week Scotland 2015, we invited businesses and other organisations to create a Reading Space in their workplace. To explain why, we invited reading expert Nicola Morgan to write about the benefits a reading workforce can bring.
I had a proper holiday recently. Five books in ten days. Because I so rarely give myself the chance to gorge like that, I really noticed the effects. All my worries faded, my head-noise reduced, and I felt restored and relaxed. Even a budget airline home couldn’t rock my wellbeing.
My mantra – which I teach in schools but applies equally to everyone – is that relaxation is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of health, like food, exercise and sleep. If we wait till our days off to do this, we function less well and risk illness. Employers, you need your staff to make time for reading!
21st Century employment is dominated by long hours (often eating into home time), noise, information overload, digital distraction. The constant demands on time, attention and energy are hard to avoid, as most of us are tyrannised by email and the need to be perpetually connected. As well as work emails – especially the dreaded 'Reply Alls' and multiple attachments – we face rafts of personal correspondence about every detail of our lives. We’re working on something and another email comes in; research shows that we lose some concentration at that moment. Performance drops.
The science is clear: multi-tasking (expecting to do two simultaneous tasks equally well) is impossible and attempting it has a cognitive tax, diminishing performance and increasing stress. Even the act of deciding to postpone opening the email has an effect. Read The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin for the science – if you dare.
The solution is simple: switch off and take time out, every day, before any symptoms of stress start to show. If you do this before bedtime, you get the added benefit of improved sleep. There is no better time-out activity than reading for pleasure: reading something you choose to read.
There is no better time-out activity than reading for pleasure: reading something you choose to read
I invented a word for this: readaxation. Readaxation describes the wellbeing benefits that come when we bury ourselves in reading. It doesn’t matter what you're reading it is as long as – crucially – you can be carried away into it and achieve the feeling of “flow” or “engagement” which psychologists identify as essential to wellbeing. (See work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman).
Readaxation allows us temporarily to escape both digital noise and worries. Stress chemicals reduce – particularly cortisol, the build-up of which contributes significantly to illness which loses employers countless worker hours and causes so much suffering to individuals. Fiction or non-fiction, short or long, light or deep, audio or ebook, it doesn’t matter as long as it carries you away.
Until recently, scientific evidence for the benefits of recreational reading was weak. No longer. Thanks to The Reading Agency’s recent review of hundreds of pieces of research (funded by the Sowerby Trust), we know the benefits for different groups. Main outcomes for the general adult population were: “enjoyment, relaxation and escapism, increasing understanding of self and social identities, empathy, knowledge of other cultures, relatedness, community, cohesion and increasing social capital.”
So, there’s every reason for all of us to spend time reading and for organisations like Scottish Book Trust to promote the benefits.
Employers: value your reading workers – they are boosting their brains and energy; they will sleep better, feel better, work better
I know there are barriers to adults reading more. Fear not: I have strategies!
- Time – who has that nowadays? Well, last time I checked, there were still 24 hours in a day. It’s about priority. The internet has stolen our time – steal it back! Don’t let this human creation dominate us! Don’t check emails after 9pm; put your phone away on the bus. Make small choices – I’m not asking for hours.
- Guilt – pleasure is for holidays, isn’t it? A guilty pleasure? No, this is a pleasure without guilt, improving mental and physical health. Employers: value your reading workers – they are boosting their brains and energy; they will sleep better, feel better, work better.
- Lost the habit – overwhelmed by choice and don’t know where to start? Think there’s no book that could inspire you? Think again: ask any librarian or bookseller. They like nothing more than a person who thinks he or she can’t find a book to love!
It doesn’t even have to cost anything: readaxation is free in your local library! But books make brilliant gifts, too, with booksellers just raring to recommend their favourites. Want to reward your staff for something – how about a book token?
Remember: relaxation is not a luxury. Our brains need it in order to work at their best. Readaxation offers enormous benefits to everyone. It really is a no-brainer.
Has your company got a beautiful Reading Space already? Get in touch. Email us at email@example.com.