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I recently came across this article encouraging startups to consider adding libraries or bookstores to encourage a reading culture when they add employee perks. Startups and tech companies are notorious for offering outrageous perks: free lunches, video games, lounges, recreation.
These are all well-targeted for certain types of employees. While everyone loves a good free lunch, so many of the other perks seem tailored for recent college graduates–mostly male–who want to work in a college-like environment.
And I won’t deny that the perks are appealing: they’re fun, casual, and make the workplace comfortable and open.
But for an introvert like me, environments like that feel a little too much, all the time.
Which is why I love the suggestion to add libraries and bookstores for employees. Not only do they allow for the same kind of breaks as the ping pong table (albeit quieter and more solitary), but they offer the same kind of relationship-building as open offices and video games–better, I would argue.
Friendships Through Reading
I work at home now (introvert’s dream), but the office I worked in was a very kind, social setting and friendships seemed to form naturally. However, I found it a little difficult to build meaningful friendships with my coworkers.
I saw others forming close friendships, but I never seemed to get there. Aside from my introversion (which was a big factor), I also lived far away and couldn’t make after-work social events. My long commute meant that I was pretty head-down most days, trying to finish as much work as possible so I could leave on time and try to avoid traffic.
After several years of this, something finally changed. It started on the day when a kind colleague handed me a book she had just read.
It wasn’t work-related. It was just a fiction book she had finished and enjoyed, so she passed it on. Soon we were passing books back and forth and chatting about them any chance we got. Another coworker soon joined in on the book trading and chatting.
After just a few weeks of this, I felt closer to some of the people I worked with every day but hadn’t known that well. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking books, but it was a touchpoint and a small highlight of the day when we got to chat about them.[click_to_tweet tweet=”For a reader, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of someone pressing a book into your hands, and saying, “Read this. I thought of you, and I think you’ll love it.”” quote=”For a reader, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of someone pressing a book into your hands, and saying, “Read this. I thought of you, and I think you’ll love it.””]
Books on Desks
Something else that created connections? Leaving books on my desk. Where people had carefully avoided disturbing me before, now they were stopping by to ask about the book I had out. I rarely minded the quick breaks, and the conversations always felt more meaningful than the other idle small talk that permeates offices.
Soon I noticed a few others with books out on their desks as well. We were an office of writers, which naturally extended to being an office of readers. But that “reading” aspect–so central to what had made us writers in the first place–had been missed.
Now it was out in the open, quietly there for discussion and just…awareness. Offering common ground when things felt tense and moments of respite when work felt like drudgery–but not so far out of the wheelhouse of “work” that we felt unproductive (how often are those video games and ping pong tables really used in workplaces, anyway?).
Creating a Reading Culture
What makes books such a wonderful touchpoint, especially for an office full of introverts, is how you can manage your level of engagement around them. We didn’t start a book club where we sat around talking for extended periods.
We didn’t start eating lunch together every day (though we did do that more frequently). In fact, several of us continued to eat alone most days in the cafeteria or courtyard, happily reading our books and nodding at one another, stopping for a few minutes to see what the other had going, and then moving on.
So I loved the suggestion to encourage a culture of reading in the workplace through libraries and bookstores.
Storytelling at Work
Beyond just the love of books, reading for pleasure has direct application to the workplace. My office has recently started a group that is exploring storytelling techniques and how they can be applied to the scientific information that we write about.
While I’m not able to take part (again, not in the office anymore), I have been fascinated to see the new and revised work that is coming out of these sessions.
Even if you’re not in an office of writers, storytelling is probably an integral part of what you do. As this article in Forbes says,
When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works.
People are always primed for a good story. And the more they are exposed to good stories, the more they can tell a good story.
What better way to expose workers to good stories, and provide the types of appealing benefits that attract and keep employees than to create a culture of reading in the workplace?
Contrary to popular belief, readers are not anti-social people. We love stories, and we love to share and discuss them. I was able to do this with coworkers when I worked in an office, and now I can do it with fellow bloggers.
More importantly, it was books that finally brought me together with some friends at work. One small gesture–handing over a book–made all the difference.
Have you ever started a friendship based on books? Does your workplace encourage reading?
Books on the Power of Storytelling