Want to boost productivity? Let your employees do nothing

Employers often believe that, in order to get the absolute most out of employees, it is essential to ensure they constantly have something critical to do. 

However, a recent study has suggested this may not be the case, and that offering your employees the option of 'doing nothing' is actually beneficial to long-term productivity. 

According to a new paper published in the journal Psychological Science, individuals are more likely to persevere to reach an objective if they have a choice set that includes the option of doing absolutely nothing. 

"It sounds counterintuitive because we assume that the option of doing nothing reduces persistence," explained Wharton marketing professor Rom Schrift, one of the individuals behind the findings. 

"However, if I choose something, I learn about my preferences. Just knowing that fact helps us persist longer when there's adversity or hardship."

In order to prove this hypothesis, the scientists conducted three experiments into the nature of human choice. Word-search puzzles, abstract number calculations and spot-the-difference games were all used to determine under which environments people would be most driven to succeed. 

Across all three tests, the results were conclusive – people can improve their chances of attaining a goal simply by allowing themselves the option of doing nothing.

In terms of real world applications, the study authors cited the example of an individual who had the choice of choosing between two gyms. An individual who forces themselves to join one of the gyms, without the option of not joining at all, would be more likely to quit further down the line. 

However, an individual who was allowed to choose between gym A, gym B or no gym at all would likely stick with their fitness endeavours, knowing they really wanted to join the fitness club in question. 

In the business world, employers might consider investing in efficiency software that offers workflow automation functionality. This technology allows workers to forego manual, yet essential, everyday tasks such as data entry, in place of more tangible value-add initiatives. 

By giving your employees the option of doing nothing, you might find they contribute far more to the organisation than would be otherwise possible. 

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