18 November 2014
Human Performance guru Thomas Gilbert once wrote, “There is a word that once described the most desirable and valuable aim of any attempt to improve human competence: that word is leisure.” I’d like to expand upon the topic of workplace leisure.
In our modern usage, the word leisure connotes idle time, free of worry and care, spent on a tropical beach with umbrella drink in hand. Even if it’s something we aspire to, it is a foreign and unwelcome context when we are at work. Like Gilbert, I’d like to challenge that notion.
In his book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance (1978), Gilbert wrote his Leisurely Theorems, the first of which goes: Worthy performance (W) is the ratio of valuable accomplishment (A) to costly behavior (B). It’s a variation of a Return-on-Investment (ROI) statement. If we write the theorem in a pseudo-mathematical form, it looks like this:
W = A/B
Worthy performance is that set of outcomes that our business or organization finds valuable to our mission. Valuable accomplishments are the results that bring us to that mission. Costly behavior is the labor or effort we must spend to accomplish the valuable result.
Let’s agree that worthy performance is something we desire from our employees. In order to increase the amount of W in our workplace, we can strive for one of two influences (or both): increase A, or decrease B.
Stated in plain English, we increase the worthy performance in our business when we accomplish more (A), without working any harder. Similarly, we can also increase worthy performance if we maintain the amount of accomplishment, but find an easier way to get it done.
Even in 1978, Gilbert suggested that the word leisure is lost to us as desirable in the workplace. He suggested the term human capital in its place. Human capital, or leisure, is the potential for worthy performance, a function of time and opportunity. If we want more worthy performance out of our employees, we ought to provide them both time and opportunity to achieve it.
Imagine the work place filled with leisure, that is, filled with time and opportunity to do worthy things. That’s a workplace I would happily return to each day.
Don’t save leisure time for those precious few vacation days each year. Seek leisure opportunities every day. If you are an employee, work with your manager to increase A and reduce B. If you are an employer or manager, inject leisure time for your employees into their daily routine. You’ll be glad you did.