By Marc Lambert

If you’ve ever coveted a good cigar, you might have wondered why two of the most famous brands – Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo – are named after famous literary characters. The answer is instructive. In the late 1800s, as the Cuban cigar industry was getting underway, factory owners realised that a happy and educated workforce was a productive one, so they employed readers to entertain their workers. In the event, Shakespeare’s play, and Dumas’s thriller, caused such a sensation on the factory floor that they were adopted henceforth as the names of the cigars themselves.

Sadly, workplace policies have rarely been so enlightened. Factory owners and company bosses have more usually been motivated by coercive ideas about how to ensure worker productivity. In the early 1900s, for instance, the dominant ethos of industrial production was Taylorism, which viewed workers as mere cogs in a machine and treated them accordingly.

Today, employers have a different understanding of how best to stimulate performance, realising that supporting the wellbeing of staff is critical to the bottom line.

The advantages of such an enlightened approach are too plain to be ignored. As recent research has shown, staff are likely to be more productive – and more creative and resourceful – when their workplace offer is about more than just work in its narrowest sense. Given the right opportunities, employees will stay with the company longer, communicate better, acquire new and valuable skills, and – because they are happier and more fulfilled – they will be better team players to boot. Crucially, they are also less likely to be debilitated by stress, which costs UK employers a staggering £1.24 billion in lost productivity annually.

The message is plain: looking after one’s employees helps a business gain a competitive edge over its rivals. A service industry has grown up around the benefits of stimulating employee wellbeing and mindfulness. Yet company HR departments still struggle with the best way to implement such measures, with lingering doubts about the time, cost and disruption such an effort might involve.

Help is at hand. One of the main messages of this year’s Book Week Scotland is that implementing such measures in the workplace doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. The means are simple and they can be found between the pages of a book, with all the social things that can be done in the workplace around books.

Promoting a reading culture in the workplace will produce immediate cost-effective benefits. Take, for instance, stress. Research by the University of Sussex’s MindLab demonstrates that reading for as little as six minutes a day can relieve stress by up to 68 per cent, an astonishing finding.

Dr Lewis, the academic who conducted the test, explained: "A book is the ultimate relaxation ... It really doesn't matter what book you read. By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness."

Psychologists such as Martin Seligman confirm the benefits of such "flow states" of altered consciousness, seeing them as central to relaxation, creativity, productivity and happiness.

For employers, the great news is that making these benefits available to employees hardly costs a cent. Here are a few simple ideas of what could be done to promote a reading culture in the workplace, taken from Book Week Scotland’s resident expert, author Nicola Morgan:

* Build reading into your company values

* Appoint company "reading advocates" or ambassadors

* Create spaces where employees are licensed to read in peace, and give them time to do so

* Create a book-swap box where employees can leave books and enthusiastic recommendations

* Start a monthly book group or a creative writing group, and if possible invite an author to speak to the group

The famous French author Flaubert once advised: "Read to live." To which we can now add: "Read to work."

Marc Lambert is chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust.