Why it pays to play: workplace fun breeds employee wellbeing and productivity

Introducing a little fun into the office can bring major benefits. But it takes more than just table football to make your employees happy

Employees who have ‘fun’ at work are far more likely to report higher levels of psychological well being than those who do not. Not only that, they are more motivated, better at collaborating with others, more supportive of their colleagues, more committed and less absent. At a time when we are being regularly warned about the stresses of the digital workplace, and the difficulty of balancing ‘work’ and ‘home’ life, it seems that there is an awful lot to be said for allowing your employees to play.

But before you rush off to order that pool table and repaint your reception with blue and pink spots, there are a few basics you need to address first. Yes, fun at the office can be of enormous benefit both to the wellbeing of your workforce and the productivity of your business, but it takes more than just pool and dress down Fridays to achieve the desired end result of a happy office, one chock full of smiling, playful and productive people. There are few things less likely to encourage playfulness than being cajoled to be playful for the sake of it.

As with so many things, playfulness and fun start at the top. It’s not something that many employers find easy. While 58% of workers say “having great colleagues I enjoy spending time with” is important, only 38% of business owners feel the same way. The focus, no doubt, is on other matters than pure ‘fun’, and that means that many business owners are going to have to come out of their comfort zones if they are to achieve the kind of workplace where fun and play are as natural as spreadsheets and coffee rotas.

The good news is that the owner doesn’t have to organise everything. While many employees value company activities which are set up to, for example, recognise successful business achievements, people also like to be spontaneous and organise their own celebrations and activities. Different genders also tend to prefer different types of activity, though interestingly activities as diverse as office parties, work choirs, board games and swingball appeal almost equally to all genders. Then there is the question of age groups. We are now far more likely to be working in locations which have three different generations represented. The idea of fun for a millennial (anyone born between 1980 and 2000) is going to be different to those born a little earlier. While 51% of 16-24 year olds would like allocated ‘fun time’ at work, this drops to just 19% for 55-60 year olds.

As with so many things at work, there is a balance to be achieved here. But what is without question is the beneficial effect of fun and play at work. Yes, there are differences when it comes to taking time out. Some of these are around gender, others around your view of work: is it something which is ‘functional’ or do you see any work itself as a ‘fun’ activity? But whatever the point of view, there are plenty of shared activities which everyone can enjoy – even if it's just celebrating a birthday or a promotion, or even clocking off early on Fridays. There is something for everyone in workplace fun – what’s vital is that it becomes part of the culture and is celebrated as such.

Nobody said having fun would be easy. But the benefits, as I’ve already said, are huge. When it comes to time off for illness, of those who have engaged in fun activities at work, 62% had no sick days in the last three months. That compares to 38% who didn’t have fun. And the positive ‘fun’ comparisons go on. Those who have taken part in a ‘fun activity’ in the last six months are more likely to feel creative (55% verses 33% who didn’t) and more committed to their organisation (58% against 46% who hadn’t). Whichever way you look at it, play pays.

And when it comes to fun, HR is the best place to be, with only 7% of HR professionals saying they’d not taken part in any fun activity at work in the last six months.

Paul Harris is co-founder and chief marketing officer at BrightHR. To download your own copy of the BrightHR report It Pays to Play click here now

The figures in this article come from a survey of 2,000 employees in the UK carried out by Robertson Cooper in collaboration with BrightHR