When was the last time you had the opportunity in your working day to stop and think, to take more than a few minutes to learn something new, or to be really creative in your job?
Hopefully your answer is “just the other day” or “last week”, but in today’s 24/7 world, where we are expected to always be on, I suspect the answer for many people is one they are having to search back in their memory banks to recall.
And that’s not uncommon. Employers want to get the most from their teams, but often by emphasising and encouraging productivity, any room that there was for creativity gets moved to the bottom of the list or is squeezed out altogether.
According to a recent study by Gallup, even when employees strongly agree that they’re expected to be creative, only 52% of them say they are given the time to do so.
It’s something a lot of employers get wrong, even though the same survey showed that those who said they are allowed to take creative risks at work are half as likely to be job-seeking.
We realised in Bazaarvoice that our teams needed time set aside explicitly to think, learn and get creative, so we introduced a company-wide initiative called Thinking Thursday, which does just that.
All calendars are blocked out for four hours on a Thursday morning to ensure no meetings can be booked at that time.
Thinking Thursdays is an opportunity for staff, no matter the level or role, to have the freedom of time to think, learn, get creative and develop themselves personally.
Some opt for learning a new piece of technology, while some use it to work on communication and leadership skills; others simply dedicate the time to reading books or articles.
There is complete freedom and encouragement to spend this time on your own interests.
With graduates right through to senior management taking part, it alleviates the feeling of guilt from not spending this time on project-based work.
We also have a global “no-meeting Thursday” once a month, which is designed to enable a free day to spend on thinking, learning and creativity, which some teams use as an all-day creative session because they know they aren’t going to be interrupted by people having to join other calls.
There are multiple benefits to allowing this level of creative freedom in the workplace, which we’ve seen first-hand — among them are an improvement in people’s problem-solving skills, greater employee engagement and higher job satisfaction.
Employee feedback from our team has been overwhelmingly positive, as lots of people have worked at places that claimed to provide time for learning and development but didn’t then actually encourage or promote it.
In a competitive market, creative freedom, independent learning and personal development can’t just be buzzwords on job advertisements.
We also know that, as well as being full of distractions, there is a lot of pressure in modern life through social media on people in their twenties and thirties to “do it all”, so Thinking Thursday also has a wellbeing side to it too.
We don’t want anyone in our team to slip into a cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat.
For all you sceptics out there, Thinking Thursday doesn’t mean “no-work Thursday”. We encourage a level of sharing every so often about what people have been up to and what they’ve learned.
Some weeks people may use the time to clear their inbox and get some admin done — but they still appreciate having the time to do so.
Ultimately it is about trust and creating that space for people to focus on themselves, because we know that can only benefit Bazaarvoice as an organisation.
It takes some discipline from the entire organisation to follow through and adhere to a way of working such as Thinking Thursdays, but setting aside that time to learn has become part of life here because it’s accepted by everyone and for everyone.
The balancing act between productivity and creativity has long been a challenge facing employers who want to get the most from their teams but also need them to come up with new ideas.
Having policies like this in place shows our people that we are invested in them, but also that we value their interests and want everyone to have that equal opportunity to grow and develop.
Laura Lunn is capability lead (product development) at Bazaarvoice