A man daydreaming while he is sitting on his work from home desk.
HR needs to find ways to help employees daydream at work. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada

Mental Health

Why You Need to Daydream At Work

‘Because they are so short, and I find them to be pleasant, they never hurt me.’

Every human resource person or boss who has told you to focus 100% during work hours is wrong.

It’s common knowledge that shortened work weeks increase employee productivity by as much as 40% in some cases.

Now, researchers have found that even during ‘work hours’ in jobs which require you to problem solve creatively, daydreaming while on the clock can help employees find creative solutions as well. This is especially true for people who actually care about their work.

Different types of daydreams

Conventionally, a ‘daydream’ is defined asa series of pleasant thoughts about something you would prefer to be doing or something you would like to achieve in the future.” But in the research published in The Academy of Management Journal, authors studied two types in particular: problem-oriented daydreaming loosely connected to your work, and bizarre daydreaming, like dreaming about building a space boat to Mars.

They found that as long as workers are passionate about what they do, problem-oriented daydreaming can help them think more creatively. If an employee just doesn’t care, it won’t work for them. And bizarre daydreaming is useless and inefficient for everyone. According to co-authors Markus Baer, Erik Dane, and Hector P. Madrid, the project “depicts daydreaming as a critical mechanism accounting for the connection between the type of work people do and the level of creativity they exhibit on the job.”

Employee mental health

This comes on the back of workplaces going remote, which is already a more stressful situation than working in the office. An International Labour Organization study found compared to 25% of office goers, 41% employees working remotely reported high stress levels.

Btw, 70% of millennials prefer to work for employers offering remote jobs, however LinkedIn has found that working remotely slows career growth while adding stress. Throw in the COVID-19 curveball, and no wonder we’re in a mental health epidemic too.

Surprisingly, daydreaming can help here as well. A 2019 study conducted by a former Georgia Tech and current University of South Florida professor Kelsey Merlo found that many participants thought daydreaming had helped them perform better at work and also reduce stress. A software consultant who was part of the study noted, “because they are so short, and I find them to be pleasant, they never hurt me.”

At the end of the study, the authors concluded that letting your mind wander fights work-fatigue and stress because “it allows individuals to cognitively and effectively disengage from their work demands.”

Maybe, rather than planning elaborate ‘outdoors’ and/or ‘team building’ exercises, the folks in human resources need to find ways to help their employees daydream while on the clock.

Also read: Can We Biohack Our Mental Health?


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Why You Need to Daydream At Work