There’s a fine line that runs through the workplace these days—the line between professional and friendly. In the past, office workers would show up at 9 AM, put in their 8 hours, and head home. They may pause for some small talk by the water cooler and attend the holiday party, but mostly keep their private lives separate from work. There’s been a lot of debate as to how effective this model is—and how to increase productivity in offices everywhere. The modern office is shaking up stereotypes in a big way, as companies offer more flexibility and experiment with different programs to increase productivity. One of these trends is increasing engagement with employees through fun activities. But is having fun in the workplace really more productive?
The Fun Startup Office
Among younger workers, there have been several shifts in how we work over the last few decades: we’re spending more time at work—and work has tried to become more appealing to compensate for this. This has led to a trend of fun workplaces. For example, many offices are implementing artificial intelligence software, open floor plans, pool tables, comfy beanbag chairs, snacks, and employee happy hours. All of these perks are intended to attract the best and brightest talents. It encourages them to collaborate and keeps them more committed to the company they work for. But does it work?
Does Incorporating Fun Actually Work?
Overall, the United States workforce is disengaged at work. Only 32% of workers reported that they felt engaged at work during a 2015 study. In total, about 17% were actively disengaged! This results in higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher stress levels. Innovative companies are working hard at having fun in order to change these statistics.
Just look at some of the biggest, most productive companies out there, like Google. Google’s offices are known for being full of fun activities—beach volleyball and rock climbing, to name a few. Yet they’re one of the most powerful companies in the world, with some of the brightest minds working for them. Part of their secret is that they’re able to attract the best talent through their notoriety in the business world and the perks they offer—their employees actually want to be at work. By recharging their batteries on the job, employees are also more able to be creative and innovative overall, because they’re not sitting at their desks, bored and disengaged. They’re also more likely to make friends in the office and work better as a team as a result of office activities that encourage personal as well as professional relationships.
Backing it Up
A study by BrightHR backs up these observations—at least in the minds of employees. 79% of graduates and those set to leave school felt that having fun at work was important, with 44% of those believing fun in the workplace increases work ethic. Older workers were far less convinced—only 56% of this group felt fun at work was important, and only 14% said fun improves work ethic. This difference could be influenced by many factors—priorities in life due to age and changing workplace culture. However, millennials will soon make up the largest portion of the workforce. It’s important to note that this group values both fun and hard work in the office.
Reducing Sick Time
Aside from improving productivity, teamwork, engagement, and leadership practices, there’s another interesting side benefit of encouraging employees to have fun at work: they tend to take fewer sick days. The BrightHR study found that 62% of employees who took no sick days in the previous 3 months had fun at work. More revealing, 58% of those who took 11-plus sick days reported not having fun at work. This indicates that not only are people happier and more productive when they have fun at work. This is because they’re more optimistic, and motivated, and see overall increases in well-being.
What Qualifies as Fun?
Of course, “fun” can be interpreted in many different ways. Employers need to be attuned to their team’s preferences to use fun effectively in the workplace. Anonymous surveys are typically the best way to accomplish this—employers can get a clear picture of what perks would be welcome (fun stuff, not basics like health care and 401(k) programs) and what activities spark the most interest in the office. Of course, there will be some generational differences in what activities are preferred—and even in overall participation.
All Work and No Play
The old saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has always held true. Now it takes on a different context in the modern office. Before, all the work took place at work, and all the play took place at home. Today, those lines are blurred. While some say it’s causing us to spend more time on the job, it’s hard to argue with the evidence. People who have fun at work are happier and more productive. This can make work feel a little bit less like work overall.
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Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He is currently writing a book about scaling up business and his experience implementing lean methodology.