Commentary: Should you take time off for leisure during working hours?
Ask remote workers in Singapore and chances are that they will think there’s nothing wrong with a foot massage or dim sum high tea during working hours, says HR expert Adrian Tan.
SINGAPORE: At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a group of Hang Seng Bank management trainees in Hong Kong skipped out on working from home to go hiking, posting photos on Instagram tagged “best WFH activity”.
The bank management was unamused and issued the employees warning letters.
This response felt warranted at that time when work-from-home was new to most of us. But with two years of training under our belts, it is hard to deny that work, especially in white-collar sectors, is best measured by outcomes and not hours spent.
With hybrid work now an established norm, should managers consider giving employees time off for leisure during business hours?
According to a report by The New York Times, there is a rising trend of remote workers in the US who are taking advantage of their flexible schedules to enjoy activities such as golfing, shopping or pampering themselves on weekday afternoons. This phenomenon has been dubbed the "afternoon fun" economy.
THE CASE FOR AFTERNOON FUN
Ask remote workers in Singapore and chances are that they will think there is nothing wrong with some me-time during business hours. Thanks to the pandemic, we have learned to operate at the centre of all possible distractions - kids, elderly caregiving, Zoom calls that could have been an email, Netflix, another house renovation. Companies survived and so did we.
Carving out some time for leisure can help employees cope with stress, as well as the isolation and lack of motivation that come with WFH. By doing something you enjoy, you can relax, recharge and improve your mood.
This can prevent burnout, which affects your productivity and quality of work. Companies can also save money on mental wellness programmes.
Afternoon breaks can also boost innovation. Steve Jobs is famous for doing walking meetings as it stimulates creativity. Since working from home can be tedious and monotonous, engaging in different activities exposes you to new perspectives and sparks your imagination.
Patronising businesses during off-peak periods is a boost for local businesses, which are used to a lull after lunchtime. Customers can avoid crowds and enjoy deals too. Paradise Dynasty, for instance, offers members a 40 per cent discount off dim sum on weekdays, 3pm to 5pm.
CONSIDER THIS BEFORE YOU ASK FOR TIME OFF
Before you put in a Slack request to your manager, there are people who disagree with having fun during work hours, and think it reflects a lack of professionalism and respect for your employer and colleagues.
This is especially so when it is crunch time. Nobody wants to see their colleague’s kayaking reel on Instagram while they are doubling down on sales calls to meet their quota.
Taking time off for leisure can also disrupt your workflow. In his book Deep Work, writer Cal Newport argues that the ability to focus on demanding tasks is a valuable asset in a modern world full of distractions, and that honing it will improve your efficiency and skills. That state of intense concentration may be out of reach if your mind is on unrelated activities planned later in the day.
Moreover, afternoon fun can blur the lines between work and life even further. WFH had already set this in motion, with workers experiencing burnout and long hours because of unclear boundaries. Time off for leisure could end up lengthening one’s workday if it means having to make up for that lost time later.
FINDING THE BALANCE
So how do you balance having fun and being productive during work hours?
First, communicate openly and honestly with your boss and colleagues. Inform them beforehand if you will be taking a break, and explain why you need it and how it will benefit you and your work.
This is the genesis of the book by Robert Glazer, How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace. Recognising the need to untether, every employee is to let their team and manager know their available and non-available time.
Second, prioritise your tasks. As much as it is important to recharge, it does not mean it should be done at the expense of work, especially when it is urgent and essential. So schedule afternoon fun around your meetings and deadlines.
Third, set boundaries and limits. Use the 80/20 rule, which states that 80 per cent of results come from 20 per cent of your efforts. Identify which daily tasks yield the most outcomes and focus on tackling them. Deprioritising other time-consuming but unfruitful tasks could free up space for golfing and foot massages. Be mindful of how much time you spend on fun activities and how they affect your work performance and well-being.
Remember, having fun is essential, as is being productive and professional. And maybe don’t post about it on Instagram.
Adrian Tan is a former HR entrepreneur turned marketing strategist who writes about the future of work. He is also a co-host on CNA's Work It podcast.