There’s nothing more comforting than curling up with a good book. When you read, you welcome new adventures, lessons and perspectives. In fact, time spent with your nose in a book can help your career. Find out the many benefits of reading and how it can help you succeed in business.
The benefits and importance of reading have been championed for years. It’s been a topic of research for quite some time and continues to be studied by business professionals, communication experts, linguists and others.
Research has shown how reading benefits cognitive function, especially in older adults. One study, published in 2020 in the journal International Psychogeriatrics, looked at nearly 2,000 Taiwanese people ages 64 and older, with various levels of education, to study how regular reading affected their mental performance over a 14-year period. They found that the people who read more had a reduced risk of cognitive decline over the 14-year study period.
Another study even found that reading may help people live longer. The research, published in 2017 in the journal Innovation in Aging, studied more than 3,600 people over a 12-year period. The people who read books lived longer, on average, and had a lower risk of dying over the study period, compared with the people who did not read at all and the people who read other types of materials, such as magazines and newspapers.
Reading can help you build a better career. “Reading is a very necessary habit for every successful businessperson,” said Ellen Parry Lewis, a fiction author. “It broadens your mind, helps with your written and verbal communication skills, and gives you a certain level of understanding and empathy.”
Here are some other ways reading can benefit your business career and help you in the workplace.
Reading about different types of people and their adversities helps you understand others better and fosters empathy, which is important in your career regardless of your field.
“Whether you’re reading about real people or fictitious characters, books are made to not only broaden your mind in regards to facts but feelings,” Lewis said. This empathy, in turn, helps you connect and communicate with clients and colleagues. [Find out how to improve communication with customers.]
When you read about other people’s lives, you’re more likely to identify with them, research suggests. In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers used passages from the Harry Potter and Twilight book series to investigate whether reading can increase empathy. After the participants read their assigned portions, testing showed that the readers identified with wizards or vampires, depending on which book they read.
That might sound silly, but the concept does have real-world applications. Business owners can more easily reach their target customers if they read up on what makes them unique.
“Regardless of what kind of stories you like to read, fiction or nonfiction, reading enables you to make sense of your life, the lives of others, your relationships and the world at large,” said Joe Tonzelli, former author and media editor for Cut Print Film.
Empathy is considered one of the most important skills a human can develop. In the business world, understanding other people’s feelings and perspectives can lead to stronger relationships with employees, culminating in a better work environment, higher engagement and increased employee retention. As a business owner, empathy can help you negotiate deals and build customer loyalty. An empathetic personality will make people want to work with you throughout your career. You may even want to consider a specific type of career as an empath.
It’s no secret that reading expands a person’s vocabulary. What’s more, with constant exposure to various sentence structures, voices, styles and delivery methods, you also advance your written and verbal communication skills, said Joe McGee, author of Peanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale.
As an avid reader, you’ll likely speak more professionally, confidently and easily, which are hallmarks of a great communicator in business and elsewhere. Understanding the art of language will set you apart from others in the working world, and there are few better ways to learn about language than through reading.
“Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re enhancing your vocabulary on every page,” Tonzelli said. “You learn what certain words mean and how to use them. You learn which words hold the power, or the humor, or the emotion.”
While it’s never too late to become a habitual reader, the sooner you start, the better. A UCL research team found that children who read in their spare time and were encouraged to do so by their parents understood 26% more words than kids who didn’t spend recreational time reading. That’s worth keeping in mind whether you’re mentoring young employees or raising a future entrepreneur.
An expanded vocabulary helps your career by improving your written and verbal presentation in the workplace. Developing your vocabulary and deepening your language comprehension will help you project intelligence and command respect from peers and management. It can also improve your work if your business’s focus involves handling research or other written content. The more words you understand and use, the stronger your ability to communicate will be. Being able to say what you mean in the clearest and most direct way helps get your message delivered – a necessary skill for a business owner to be successful.
The benefit of reading to improve vocabulary is so well established that test prep company Kaplan would sell versions of classic fiction with potential SAT vocabulary highlighted.
Experts say creativity can be learned, but did you know that reading books also inspires creativity? Writers conceive interesting topics for stories, and reading them helps you do the same in your work life. McGee told us that readers have broader-reaching minds, which helps them think on a deeper level than people who don’t read as much. Creativity can lead to innovation, and innovation is one of the keys to a successful business.
Consider this example of fiction reading sparking creativity: A study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that those who read fictional short stories were more comfortable with ambiguity and had more open minds than people who read nonfiction essays. The fiction readers were mentally stimulated and more likely to expand their ways of thinking. Those are key components of generating creative ideas, and having a creative business idea can be pivotal in whether your enterprise succeeds.
Creativity is something everyone uses daily. Although it might be most closely associated with the arts, the applications of creativity in business are undeniable. When you solve problems in the workplace, for example, you may need a creative approach to finding the right solution. Creativity also has seeds in business tasks such as organization, where you may have to figure out innovative ways to maximize time and resources in constrained situations. Creativity is also invaluable to successful marketing and advertising campaigns.
Reading can increase your creativity, which is a skill used in day-to-day business operations, like problem-solving and organization.
Sometimes, you need to escape your own problems and dive into someone else’s. It may feel like a guilty pleasure, but reading is a great distraction from reality and a way to lessen stress. Distancing yourself from potential stressors can allow you to remain calm and help you prepare for or wind down from an important workday.
“Who doesn’t like to relax after a long day, perhaps escaping into a world of victorious knights, magical empresses and rebellious maids?” Lewis said.
While there are many ways to improve work-life balance and take advantage of “off” time to lower stress, reading is worthy of consideration. University of Sussex research on stress reduction evaluated different methods, like listening to music, having a hot beverage, walking and playing video games. The best-performing method turned out to be reading, which reduced stress by 68% and helped slow down the reader’s heart rate and ease muscle tension after just six minutes.
According to the American Psychological Association, 64% of employed adults say work is a stressor. As a business owner, it’s critical to pay attention not just to your own stress levels but also to those of your workers. You need to combat workplace burnout or else risk decreases in productivity, engagement and retention. A light-hearted book club for employees could be one way to encourage reading and give your staff a break from everyday responsibilities. Don’t forget about reducing stress for yourself as well – an overly stressed person may be able to lead a company in the short term, but there will likely be disastrous consequences in the long run. [Review the most and least stressful jobs.]
Lewis emphasized how reading teaches people to persevere. After finishing an assigned book or a work of fiction in your free time, you may feel a sense of accomplishment, inspiring you to follow suit in your career. You could be more motivated to achieve another goal or less willing to give up on things that seem difficult.
“The ability to read a book, and stick with it, demands attention and focus – something kids seem to have less of in a world of iPhones and fidget spinners,” McGee said. “Reading a book requires a commitment, [which] … is desirable to an employer.”
Perseverance in the workplace is extremely valuable. With the regular ebbs and flows in business, you need the resolve to deal with both the highs and the lows of operating a company. As an employer, you may want to reward staff who show commitment to projects over an extended period, which indicates a resilient and adaptable work ethic. Whether you’re making it through the daily grind or finishing a string of important tasks, perseverance increases the chances of workplace stability.
When you read, you’re gaining perspective and insight on different cultures, adversities, lifestyles, relationships and more. That’s beneficial not just for fostering empathy but also for increasing intelligence.
“Reading [also] stimulates mental activity and fosters cognitive growth,” McGee said. “Young readers are developing and exercising their brains, much like someone … [who] takes their body to the gym.”
McGee said all professionals should feed their minds by picking up a book. “We should always be striving to grow, learn and improve ourselves,” he said. “Reading is one way to do that – to learn from others by reading their words, stories and insight[s].”
When you read, you gather new information that can be applied in the workplace. There are myriad books on virtually every industry, and there is always more to learn. While nonfiction works are more likely to teach you skills relevant to your specific business, fiction can also give you a different perspective that might be relevant in your field of work.
The more a person reads, the more likely they are to be well versed in a particular topic. If they read about a variety of topics, the more likely they are to be well rounded. Both are attributes business owners should seek in employees and themselves. Set the example by regularly sharing top book picks with your team or even customers. In addition to reaping the benefits highlighted above, you’ll strengthen workplace relationships and connections.
Sammi Caramela contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.