Tech companies are famous for their Pilates classes, gaming tournaments, heated swimming pools, in-office slides, pet days, free snacks and other fun perks. Is there more to these perks than just bragging rights for a company? Do they make employees more productive?
The fact is, they do. Though it's easy to believe the myth that working harder is always working better, companies are increasingly discovering that some of the best work happens when people are given a chance to play around. Research has shown the productivity benefits of the "Creative Pause," a time for the brain to step back and take time away from work in order to solve problems and think creatively. And Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has argued in a TED talk called "Play is More than Just Fun" that play is intimately tied to creativity, innovation, and productivity.
Our brains don't do well chained to a desk. Playing games and exploring the world gives us time to make connections, see things differently, break out of old habits and come up with new ideas. When people are "goofing off," they're not necessarily forgetting about work problems, questions or dilemmas; their brains are, instead, actually thinking about all those things unconsciously, coming up with new approaches, perspectives and ideas.
We tend to think that work happens only when we're completely focused on a task, but often the opposite is true. Creative inspiration often comes when we look away, do something else for a while, and then return. Play creates new neurological pathways and makes the brain more flexible, giving it the chance to develop unique solutions. Play can, therefore, have a serious goal—in addition to simply being fun.
Playing volleyball or ping pong at the office can be a great way to enhance collegiality and encourage people to work together. Too often, people work in silos, separate from and oblivious to each other. Games, hikes, nights out or other social activities can help foster togetherness, particularly if they're voluntary or spontaneous.
Through games and fun activities, people can grow to see each other not just as co-workers, but as partners and co-collaborators. People who play together gain an understanding of each other that carries over into the workplace, making the time they work together ultimately more productive.
Engaging in fun activities can be good for the physical, mental and emotional health of employees. It doesn't help any employer to have unhealthy and inactive workers, many of whom might have long commutes, family duties and little time outside of the work day to get fit. Physical exercise, in addition to helping make people physically more fit, can make them happier, more energized and more relaxed. Encouraging exercise—whether it's through an office running club or a weekly yoga workshop—gives people space and time and to make themselves healthier. And healthy employees save companies money and are more productive and have fewer sick days than unhealthy ones.
Cost-Effective Play Time
Incorporating play time into your business plan doesn't have to be expensive, time-consuming or difficult. You don't have to hire a gourmet chef, offer unlimited vacation days or take the office on a ski trip. It can be as simple as taking a walk, or having an impromptu bring-your-dog-to-workday—both give employees a chance to socialize and doesn't cost a dime. Any activity, in fact, that allows the brain or body to do something new or interesting can count as play, and business owners can incorporate whatever play makes sense into their workdays.
What's most important to understand is that time spent goofing off is not an impediment to productivity. Rather, it can make people more creative, more socially engaged, and healthier—all of which can help a business's bottom line.
Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio.
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