Expand your horizons during lunch hour

Fancy doing some painting in your lunch break or knocking out a few lines of poetry? An increasing number of companies are...

Fancy doing some painting in your lunch break or knocking out a few lines of poetry? An increasing number of companies are introducing lunchtime creative workshops in the workplace, particularly in the e-business world, writes Roisin Woolnough.

Even traditional bricks-and-mortar companies are doing it. Law firm Mishcon de Reya has its own poet in residence. The poet holds poetry writing and critique workshops for staff, hopefully inspiring them to return to their work with renewed vigour and vision.

"The thinking behind it is that if you get people away from their desks and doing something they wouldn't normally do, it refreshes and stimulates them," says Imogen Daniels, advisor at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. "It also operates on the theory that a change is as good as a break."

A recent survey carried out by Mori on behalf of Arts & Business, an organisation that works to create partnerships between commercial and cultural bodies, shows that employees react positively to art at work. Of the 929 UK workers polled, 53% said they would feel more motivated at work if their company provided artistic activities.

"Creative workshops, exhibitions of art on office walls - these activities enhance the working environment and help motivation," says Paul Brown, head of marketing at Arts & Business. "They are becoming increasingly important in the workplace."

Several IT organisations collaborate with Arts & Business, including IBM and Centrica, often through sponsoring a particular artistic event and getting employees involved.

Arts & Business also works with the Brighton Festival, another organisation that attempts to bring business and the arts together. During the festival period the organisers put on roadshows and run tours of arts venues. All the companies that sponsor the event get the opportunity to invite festival performers onto their premises.

"Last year, we took a roadshow of musicians and a circus workshop to five sponsors," says Rachael Duke, sponsorship and development manager of the Brighton Festival. "One IT company, Solutions Inc, had a visit from a music roadshow featuring a jazz trio."

According to Duke, events such as these enhance communication and productivity among professionals and bring teams together.

Community projects, in particular, are renowned for their team-building potential. Last year credit card company Capital One asked for volunteers from the IT department to create a child abuse tracking system for Nottingham police. About 15 people worked on the project. Peter Lennard-Jones, card services IT project manager at Capital One, says he was surprised by how committed they were and how much each individual got out of the experience.

"It gave people a big sense of pride and reward. Also, things like this give people opportunities they don't get in their work roles. For example, the person who managed the project had never managed a project before, but she was exposed to the full project cycle."

Participants can learn new skills and mix with people from other departments. Daniels thinks this in itself can greatly reduce stress and sickness levels. "The trend that has emerged in the last few years for people not to take lunch breaks is dangerous," she says. "People need a break from their computer screens."

Workplaces have become such pressurised, fast-moving environments that many people do not even take a break, let alone do something creative in that hallowed hour. Maybe it is time to change that.

The benefits of creative lunch breaks
  • They provide opportunities to learn new skills
  • They help to reduce stress by getting you away from your desk
  • Creative activities stimulate the mind, and could help you to formulate new ideas
  • They clear your mind of work worries, leaving you refreshed to tackle them in the afternoon
  • They can provide opportunities to meet people from other departments

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