behavior · brain · creativity · culture · happiness · health · mental health · play · Social

Playing is good for work productivity

Editor’s Note: Hi! I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge that this post is VERY similar to a  post this week on the blog of digital agency Plexipixel. That’s because they were BOTH written by me, but I didn’t want to plagiarize my own work. For the original version of this post, check out their site.

The title of this blog post sums up the entire concept. There’s no other way to say it: you need to play to be a productive member of society.

However, this idea doesn’t seem to be sticking. 

The perception in America is that the harder and longer you work, the more productive you’ll be. Especially now when jobs are scarce and companies are holding on by the skin of their teeth, people sacrifice play, exercise, and good old legitimate downtime, not to mention sleep (September 30th was National Coffee Day!), to get more work done.

But it turns out we weren’t built to work that way. We need breaks, we need downtime, and we most certainly need to cut loose and be a little silly every once in awhile. As biology professor Robert Sapolsky pointed out in his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” occasional stress is good – it makes sure we get that report in on time and we are aware of our surroundings in a new city. But constant stress just wears us down.

Several studies have found that play increases new ideas and overall productivity at work. Germans, and other European countries, have more vacation time than Americans, and yet have overall higher productivity, according to data presented in an article in Open Forum. The O.E.C.D. put Americans at 1,804 work hours a year on average and the Germans at 1,436 hours in 2006.Author Thomas Geoghegan believes that Americans weren’t always this overworked. In an interview, Geoghegan explains that in the 1960’s, Americans spent more vacation time than they do now, and many people in their 50s or 60s will tell you that they take less vacation time than their parents did. In the same New York Times article, another commenter noted that Americans view time as a currency in the workplace, as opposed to output, whereas Germans view results as the biggest indicator of results.

And it’s not just time away from work that’s rejuvenating. Repeated research has found that play increases new ideas and overall productivity at work. Psychology Today reports that telling stories and jokes makes us better writers. It also reports that even a little bit of physical play or just boring old exercise – a brisk walk around the block three times a week – fights depression. 

New business, products, and companies stem from play. The t-shirt company Threadless, for example, started off 10 years ago as a hobby. The company has since grown to employ 80 workers, but Jake Nickell, founder and chief strategy officer, “has made sure playtime remains a part of company culture. Shooting a potato gun at plastic parachute guys is a way to relieve stress.”

 Pamela Meyer, author of “From Workspace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing through Dynamic Engagement,” agrees that taking time out for fun is a good workplace practice.

“This idea of play space is very much a key part of business success” because it fosters dynamic employee engagement, said Meyer in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “Companies that engage their workers by giving them space to create, try new roles or test new ideas benefit from higher employee retention, greater productivity and better financial returns.”

So, to re-re-emphasize my point: Go play, it’s good for your work.

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