Nagging Questions: Video Games in the Office

Today’s daily grind puts the squeeze on workers, with tasks piling up and — exacerbated by increased connectivity — spilling over into personal time.

Two-thirds of Americans often work at high speeds or face tight deadlines, and a quarter feel that they don’t have enough time to do their jobs, according to a recently released study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp.

So how can companies help their clans combat the stress? One answer — which may seem counterintuitive — is video games. They’ve been a go-to for techy coastal companies who claim boosts in productivity, workplace relationships and creativity/problem solving.

There’s actually academic evidence supporting benefits of gaming. A study published in July in Human Factors found that casual video game play helped workers feel better after a break, while a silent rest break actually prompted worry and guided relaxation provided only some decrease in stress levels. The researchers recommended short breaks for enjoyable and engaging activities to help workers recharge.

Obviously, there are reasons many companies’ breakrooms aren’t filled with big-screen TVs and World of Warcraft. But if you buy into the potential benefits of video games, here’s some advice about how to manage the possible glitches.

Some of our Frequently Asked Questions about video games at work:

What are employees entitled to regarding breaks?

Employers are not legally required to allow breaks, at least by federal law.  State law can be a different story. A number of states require employers to provide meal breaks or rest breaks. Kansas isn’t one of them, though it does require employers to pay for certain breaks they choose to provide. These breaks typically are part of an employer’s standard policy/handbook.

Most organizations provide two paid 10-minute breaks and a 30- to 60-minute unpaid lunch, depending on company policy.  It’s pretty reasonable to think that people are going to need to step away from their stations a couple of times a day.

If we provide an area for employees to play video games, should we restrict the kinds of games they play (such as prohibiting games with violence or nudity)?

Yes. Having a clearly stated policy about what is and isn’t acceptable is a sure-fire way to cover your bases.  Also, we recommend establishing guidelines about what happens if disagreements escalate to violent behavior or even a hostile work environment. You can’t be too safe.

We're OK with our employees taking a gaming break now and then, but how do we keep it from being disruptive to their neighbors?

We suggest having a gaming/break room specifically for break and lunch times. That allows gaming to be kept to a strict location and managed. Also, it can be helpful to give little reminders now and again that gaming is a privilege — not a right — and that if you feel it’s happening too much, it will be managed. But then, of course, you have to follow through …

What do we do if an employee is gaming all day?

It’s a simple management issue. You have to manage it, but having policy around it helps you do so. As we wrote about cell phones: "Policy might deter some of this behavior, but it won't totally stop your employees from wasting their paid time on things other than performing work for you. At a minimum, policy gives you recourse — all the way up to termination in the most severe cases."