We know a lot about our co-workers: what they like to eat and drink, what music they’re into, and what they like to read. In fact, these interests often become the basis of our workplace conversations. Maker of trendy eyewear Warby Parker noted a shared passion for reading amongst employees and decided to make book clubs an official component of the company’s culture. It’s been a win for everyone involved. Here’s why.
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1. Reading boosts creativity.
Both fiction and nonfiction inspire us to think outside the box, to consider what’s possible, and mentally transport us through new experiences. All of this influences the thinking and brainstorming we bring to the table at work. Managers would be crazy not to encourage reading amongst employees for this reason alone.
Just think about The Lord of the Rings trilogy in which the little hobbit, Frodo, is tasked with a seemingly impossible challenge, but never gives up until it’s done and adapts the task to fit his own strengths and weaknesses. How many millions of readers have been indirectly influenced as they visualize themselves in such a challenge?
2. People who read together, stay together.
This is the reason Warby Parker started book clubs in the first place. Book clubs bring people together to share ideas and thoughts, which in turn builds rapport. It creates an experience in which people get to know one another on a deeper level and strengthens the teamwork mentality.
Burton M. Goldfield, CEO of TriNet, hosts a voluntary book club at his company. Writing for Forbes in 2011, Goldfield says: “If you don’t understand what colleagues in other departments do, you may start to devalue their worth, which is when you start to build walls. It takes a major change of pace, like a book club, to break down those walls.”
3. Information is empowering.
Without book clubs in the workplace, we could easily be missing out on major developments or discoveries that apply directly to our chosen fields. Books are the centerpiece for professional development; making time for them continues our education and keeps us current. Along with that, group discussion of texts deepens and enhances our understanding of the information. We risk losing our competitive edge if professional titles aren’t a part of our literary diet.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal says, “The hope was that if it was fiction that it would spur creativity and that if it was nonfiction there would be inherent lessons from other industries and walks of life that allow us to be better at designing eyewear.”
4. Everyone needs a break.
Staring at a computer screen all day can make anyone cross-eyed and loopy. People do better when they can get up, stretch their legs, and look at something else for a while. Having a book club provides everyone with a break from the physical and mental strain of the daily grind. People can then return to their tasks at hand feeling refreshed and energized, which would make anyone more productive.
5. Reading is a contagious sort of fun.
Why shouldn’t work be fun sometimes? Having a book club could be a much-needed morale booster in a workplace. That fun might even spill over into the lives of clients and customers. Book clubs became such a success at Warby Parker, they started using the approach to reach customers. In a partnership with The Believer magazine, the company hosts a reading for each new issue of the magazine and Warby Parker retail stores sell a curated selection of titles from indy publishers. Some of these ideas come directly from the employee book clubs, which makes the case for reason no.1.
What does a book club look like in the workplace?
At Warby Parker, there are 11 mini book clubs amongst the 300 employees, which meet at least once a month. The book clubs can choose what they want to read, but executives also offer suggestions at company-wide meetings.
Burton Goldfield’s book club meets quarterly in a town-hall style meeting to discuss a book chosen by Goldfield, but those meetings only happen after employees have read and discussed the book selection in small groups.
Ideas for what to read can come from professional organizations or journals related to your field. For mainstream suggestions, both Oprah Winfrey and Nancy Pearl are a reliable go-to for book club selections and information on anything related to book clubs.
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