We read every day at work. We read emails, reports, presentations, files and more, day in and day out. But when it comes to actually sitting down and reading a book cover to cover, most people would say that they do that kind of reading at home. Reading is, after all, a personal leisure activity, and not a work activity. Or is it?
An increasing number of companies are implementing workplace reading programs and book clubs. Reading is becoming integral to many company cultures, with good reason – studies show that reading has significant benefits for employee development, which in turn can benefit the company. Reading is linked to improved vocabulary, general world knowledge, and abstract reasoning abilities. Studies show that cracking a book can reduce stress, can increase emotional intelligence, and can improve communicative skills.
For all the benefits of workplace reading, implementing such a practice with your team can be tricky. For busy employees, it’s imperative that workplace reading is introduced as a personal and professional benefit, not as an additional burden. But how do you walk the fine line between employees resenting reading as “homework,” and employees welcoming reading as an asset to professional growth and company culture?
To help navigate that distinction, we’ve put together some do’s and don’ts for workplace reading:
Do have an open dialogue about workplace reading with your employees.
Ask for their input on what employees would like to read and what they’d like to learn about. Facilitate a frank discussion about what amount of reading is feasible given their workload, and how frequently meetings should be scheduled. Ensure that the conversation centers on how this practice can provide the most value to them, and not just about how they can squeeze it into their schedule.
Do cover the cost of books for every employee.
Don’t ask employees to share books as it puts undue pressure on them to read quickly and return the book. Giving every employee their own copy means they can highlight passages, make notes, and read at their own pace. It also makes very clear that the reading is for their individual benefit as well, not just the company’s.
Don’t make it mandatory.
It will change the nature of the endeavor if you force employees to participate. If you want to employees to invest in their own development, give meaningful thought to the reading, and bring enthusiastic ideas to the table, start with volunteers. Let the volunteer participants encourage coworkers to join and you’ll get greater buy-in from these later adoptees. Whenever you start a new book, re-invite the rest of the team so they have multiple opportunities to join. Build a library of the books you’re reading, so that others can borrow them and catch up on the reading in their own time. After a couple of books, they just might join of their own accord!
Do get leadership involved and set an example.
If senior leaders are taking time out of their day to read, support others in their reading, and participate in discussions, it shows a true company commitment to the initiative. It also gives junior and senior members of the company a way to connect meaningfully outside of everyday work discussions. At Pinnacle Financial Partners, the CEO and other senior team leaders host book club meetings at their homes. That may be why they have 550 associates participating in the book club – an impressive turnout for a company of 750.
Do get different departments on the same page.
Encouraging different departments to read the same book can be a great way to build bridges between teams that don’t work together often. There will occasionally be times where it makes sense for a particular department to specialize and read their own materials, but having a regular practice of reading the same books will provide company-wide common ground.
Don’t require book reports, quiz them on the book, or require any additional tasks that go with the reading.
Employees have enough to do without being assigned anything reminiscent of homework. Requiring additional deliverables with the reading makes it unnecessarily stressful and demanding on their time.
Do get different volunteers to lead discussions and encourage everyone to speak up.
Book discussions are a great opportunity for employees to practice presenting and communicating professionally in a nonjudgmental and more relaxed environment.
Do break up discussions into smaller groups if you have a large number of participants.
Smaller groups give more people an opportunity to join the discussion. You’ll hear from more individuals in each session, and more employees may be more willing to volunteer to lead discussions if the groups are smaller.
Do iterate and experiment with the structure of workplace reading.
What works for twenty employees may not work for a hundred, so it’s important to revisit your implementation of workplace reading and be flexible as the number of participants grows. Eyewear company Warby Parker used to have company-wide book club meetings, where one employee would lead the discussion. As participation increased, the company-wide meetings evolved into a speaker series, and employees met in smaller individuals teams for book discussions on a monthly basis.
Don’t forget to have fun.
One of the greatest benefits of workplace reading is workplace bonding. While you may be choosing business-centric books and crafting practical discussion questions about them, remember that there should also be room for team bonding and camaraderie. Plan meetings around snacks or meals, give different teams some time to socialize with each other, and let the conversation flow organically.