Play Hard to Work Smart

ID-100109985It’s a cool thing for organizations these days to invest in fun and recreational facilities for employees. We see many organizations installing treadmills, Foosball, Ping-Pong tables, and video-games in their office.  For some organizations it gives a good employer branding, and for some it is a good reward mechanism for hard work. The motto seems to be – we work hard and we play hard!

While we have seen that these initiatives can elevate the mood and create enjoyment, many managers are skeptical if spending time on non-work activities can have any direct impact on the performance and productivity. Conventional belief is that employees work better in a focused and pressure situation.

Various neuroscience and positive psychology studies suggest that employees perform better when they are in a pleasurable environment and are happily engaged. A pleasurable activity generates dopamine in our brain. It is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine not only makes us happier, it also turns on learning centers in our brain and drives motivation to achieve results.

Prof Shawn Achor, renowned psychologist from Harvard University, calls it a Happiness Advantage. According to him, if you are happy with the present, then you perform better. Happiness is derived not by attaining success. Instead it is the reverse order – happiness leads to greater success.

These studies tell us that people who play hard rather work smart. They are more focused and driven to achieve higher level goals in their life and at workplace.

Here are four ways managers can help employees to bring in renewed energy to work place –

  1. Find out any regular sport activities that your employee enjoys. This could be a morning jog, biking, playing tennis or swimming. Regular physical activities give an endorphin rush, also known as “runners high” that generates a feeling of well-being and euphoria. Encourage them to spend regular time on physical activities that give them happiness.
  2. Encourage employees to revive a hobby that is long lost. A hobby can bring in renewed level of energy and gratification that can carry over to workplace. Organizations can look at creating hobby clubs where people with similar hobbies can come together and support each other to pursue areas of similar interests.
  3. Encourage employees to learn something new. Whether it is learning a new musical instrument or a new language, learning something new can generate more dopamine as the brain enjoys novelty.
  4. Encourage employees to take short 10-15 minutes break in between work. Especially when employees are overwhelmed and stressed, short breaks can recharge the energy level. Studies have shown than most of our insights happen when we take a break. Archimedes had his eureka moment while taking bath and rest is history!

Playing hard is not only a good thing to do, if used thoughtfully you can build a smarter, healthier, productive, creative, engaged and highly motivated team. The motto should be “Play Hard to Work Smart”!


Raj Karunakaran is a HR professional and a certified coach by Neuroleadership Group. He specializes in organizational development, leadership coaching and business partnering. Raj has more than 15 years of experience with organizations like Royal Philips, Fidelity Investments, AstraZeneca Plc, Tech Mahindra. He currently heads HR for Philips Healthcare sector at Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore.


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