At Google, employees play volleyball, scale walls and bowl on company time. At LinkedIn, they take breaks from answering emails by playing foosball or ping-pong. At banks and credit unions, employees are given the day to play golf against each other in teams; and at one agribusiness firm, a group of employees was given the afternoon off to go to a baseball game.
Experts like Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, say that "There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation."
Is it important to incorporate play at work?
Team builders say yes. For years, managers have at least used a lunch out or a working lunch with pizza to relax the work atmosphere on project teams, and to enable team members to connect with each other on subjects beside which project task is due next. It also enables employees to better know each other as people. This builds trust and cooperation within the team. It is also an effective stress reliever when a project manager begins to notice telltale signs of project fatigue—like employee irritation, absenteeism and sickness, accidents and deterioration in performance.
"My best performer was always saving the day when a project went wrong or a system blew up," said an IT management acquaintance. "But when things were going well, he just couldn't let down. It is in these types of situations where I watch for signs of fatigue and anxiety. You almost have to order individuals like these to go to a golf outing."
At the other end of the spectrum, there are employees who work repetitive jobs that don't have screaming deadlines to meet each day. Instead, they have the monotony of doing the same thing day after day. A pizza lunch or a day at the ballgame is a great perk for these individuals—and a way to let them know that they are appreciated.
Does this mean there is less time for work?
When I managed staff in Europe a few years ago, I noticed that the number of hours worked per week were fewer but that productivity was higher than I was seeing in U.S. offices.
There is also one other element that should be mentioned about how beneficial having fun at work can be. When employees see C-level executives and their direct bosses playing volleyball or flipping burgers at a company outing, they see a human side to these power figures. This stays with an employee for a long time, and it makes his/her superiors seem more human and approachable.
In a 2013 survey of more than 40,000 employees at 30 companies around the world, TINYpulse, a survey and research company, found that the number one reason why people liked their jobs was because they enjoyed the people that they worked with. Employees also liked freedom, autonomy, and flexibility in their jobs—and managers who supported these open environments. Play, pizza lunches, and taking some time for fun at work facilitate these humanistic environments. They encourage employees to stay with the company and they contribute to productivity. This is exactly why managers should make it their business to actively promote fun as well as work.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.