Should you send employees to ‘time-out’

Being sent to have some quiet time to reflect on one’s actions may be considered a punishment, but could “time-out” be an effective job performance tool?

Should you send employees to ‘time-out’
Taking time-out to reflect on one’s actions may be more commonly associated with a misbehaving child but should HR be sending employees to take time-outs?

According to new research that’s exactly what you should be doing. A study by Harvard Business School suggests that grown-ups should be taking regular time-outs, but not as punishment but to improve their job performance.

In the working paper Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance, the authors show that reflecting on what we've done teaches us to do it more effectively the next time around.

"Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we're busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we'd take some time out for reflection, we might be better off," Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, who co-wrote the paper, told Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

"When we stop, reflect and think about learning, we feel a greater sense of self-efficacy. We're more motivated and we perform better afterward."

The research team conducted three studies to test their hypothesis that one of the critical components of learning is reflection. All of which showed that when employees took time-out to reflect they performed better.

The studies involved asking participants to complete a round of brain teasers then afterwards dividing them randomly into one of three conditions: control, reflection and sharing. Those in the control condition completed another round of brain teasers while those in the reflection group took time to reflect on their first round and write detailed notes about strategies they employed. Then they completed a second round of puzzles. In the sharing group participants did the same as those in the reflection group, but were also told that their notes would be shared with future participants.

Results revealed that the reflection and sharing group performed an average of 18% better on the second round of brain teasers than the control group.  The results were reproduced in the second study.

A final study tested the hypothesis in a real life centre of a contact-centre in India to see which group would do better in their job training. The findings showed workers in the reflection and sharing condition performed significantly better than those in the control group. On average, the reflection group increased its performance on the final training test by 22.8% more than the control group while the sharing group performed 25% better on the test than the control group.

Gino said she hoped the research would inspire organisations to encourage employees to reflect and give them the time to do it.

"When we fall behind even though we're working hard, our response is often just to work harder,” she said. “But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection."

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