Roald Dahl, one of the greatest children's book authors, once said, "A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men." This came to my mind when I heard that some executives are hooked on Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality geo-tagging game for your tablet or smartphone. Some of the characters can be caught in real time in the office, public spaces or even roads. This is the latest mobile game sensation that has captured the interest of tech savvy millennials, and apparently, of many company executives. So, is the idea of executives playing computer games like Pokemon Go nonsensical? Does it only make sense if these games are played only by millennials, even those who are company employees? Is it okay if the games are played during office hours? Does playing computer games on company hours affect productivity?

We were asking the same things when Facebook was being introduced. In our age demographics, where the veterans are mainly retired and the baby boomers are retiring or near retirement, many found Facebook counter-work-productive while the Generation X'ers and the early millennials (who are now the management) were able to use Facebook to their business advantage.

Facebook has become so common and omnipresent that it is being used literally every minute. Executives, nowadays, use Facebook while in transit, while waiting for a client to show up for a lunch or dinner appointment, or even while a meeting is ongoing. In essence, Facebook is now used during company hours. (By the way, at P&A Grant Thornton, everyone has been granted access to Facebook.)

But Facebooking is way different from computer gaming. Facebooking is usually a quick peek on posts of friends while gaming is too engaging and takes time. Gaming is literally taking a longer break from work. A bit like playing golf. However, unlike golf where executives play with clients and, therefore, takes the form of a marketing activity, computer gaming is usually by the player's lonesome and therefore totally personal in nature.

Despite this, studies have shown that many computer games have educational, physical, and psychological benefits for players. Some train the brain to perform better in real-life situations and video game brain training has the same effect as reading a book because they make the brain learn and thousands of neurological connections are made. Games are even touted to mold leaders as players develop skills like collaboration and building alliances, efficient use of resources, focus on strengths, and confronting enemies. Realizing this, smart teachers, educators and trainers have included plays and games in their learning sessions. Silicon Valley companies are now into gamification, the process of incorporating gaming elements (game mechanics and psychology) into their work processes to improve employee engagement and productivity.

Gaming is also mainly about taking a break. We all know that work breaks help reduce stress, improve concentration and focus, and increase productivity. Schoolchildren become more attentive to academics after having recess; so how different are we from them? Thus, companies are mandated to have regular work breaks, usually called coffee breaks, in the morning and in the afternoon. At our company, P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing, Inc., we even have a "Me Time" — a ten- minute lights off break (in addition to the regular breaks) where everyone is encouraged to do their personal stuff including Facebooking, playing, chatting, meditating, walking around, reading magazines and probably playing Pokemon Go. Me Time is into its third year and is still warmly embraced by the staff.

But there also has to be a balance between breaks, playing games and getting back to work. Game addiction is also a growing problem not only among children but also among workers. It takes someone with significant self-control to walk away from an ongoing game because a break has ended.

Does playing computer games on company time improve productivity? We haven't come across a study correlating gaming during office hours with productivity. We have heard of Silicon Valley types of companies where gaming is totally allowed but the employees are technically not working by the clock but by deliverables. Even then, with gamification, these companies are weaving the games into the work making full time gaming by employees irrelevant.

How about management playing games? I've heard of executives who play Sudoku and Solitaire and of younger managers who play DOTA 2 and League of Legends, all popular and addictive computer games. Almost all play outside company time. All of them call it relaxing and de-stressing and they believe they sharpen their mind and their reflexes. Roald Dahl is right all along – smart people know that indulging in nonsensical things, now and then, can be a cherished thing.

Jessie Carpio is a Partner and Head of BPS/Outsourcing of P&A Grant Thornton and concurrently President of P&A Grant Thornton Outsourcing Inc., an entity wholly owned by P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 700 staff members.


As Published in Manila Times dated October 5, 2016