Study: Let Employees Do Nothing to Spur Productivity

Want your team to get more done? Then give them the option of doing nothing.

While you might believe you’re giving them free reign to goof off, a new study shows that by giving people the option of doing nothing, you’re actually spurring them into reaching their objectives.

Wharton University marketing professor Rom Y. Schrift and Jeffrey R. Parker, a marketing professor at Georgia State University, found that by introducing a “do-nothing” option, people become even more committed to accomplishing goals.

Schrift explains that while you may assume that having the option of doing nothing will make someone less persistent,  being able to choose actually teaches someone about himself and personal preferences, and that helps the person persist longer when hitting a roadblock or difficulty.

Schrift adds one important element of this method is ensuring that a “not doing” choice “isn’t really desirable” or “relevant.”

“In this case, a manager could add that ‘I don’t really recommend doing nothing,’” when outlining choices to the employees, he suggests.

Schrift says that providing such choices focuses employees on what they can do instead of what they can ‘t do.

“It helps employees move forward and not get stuck in indecision or questioning what to do,” he says.

Another key finding from the study is that using such a method can help people get past a period when they’re most likely to quit a task.

For example, most people are likely to quit going to the gym within their first month of attending. But if they’re given the “no choice” option of attending a gym, then they are much more likely to stick with their selected gym and keep going, he says.

“Once you make a decision and it becomes habitual, then you are less likely to quit. The beginning is very tough, but once you cross that threshold, then you stick with it,” he says.

The study, “Staying the Course: The Option of Doing Nothing and Its Impact on Postchoice Persistence,” is published in Psychological Science.














Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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