What science says about having fun at work
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Research shows that over 75% of college-educated workers expect passion to be a key ingredient in their career choices.
Yet, throughout human history, work was mostly work, and enjoying it was an exception. For example, ancient Greeks and Romans regarded work as something to give to slaves. Medieval peasants typically worked half a day. The Protestant work ethic saw work as a moral obligation rather than a hedonistic pursuit.
We expect the evolution of work to provide more opportunities for people to thrive and enjoy their careers.
In 1930, Milton Keys predicted that technology would be so advanced in the future that we would work only 15 hours a week. Although he was wrong, we should consider whether the extra twenty hours most people put in each week has anything to do with enjoyment or our passionate relation to our jobs and careers.
Research shows that loving your job improves your creative performance at work by nine percent.
Similarly, there is at most a nine percent overlap between how much you love your job and how well you perform at it. Those who love their jobs may be terrible performers, and those who are miserable at work can be among the top-performing employees.
Still, extrinsic rewards such as pay, status, and titles do nearly nothing to improve people's job performance. So, having employees who care about their job is still your best outcome.
There is a positive relationship between how much fun you have at work and how prosocial, ethical, and altruistic you are with your colleagues. So even if fun doesn't increase your performance, it increases your desire to be friendly and avoid being a toxic colleague.
Organizational programs to support fun activities seem to significantly reduce turnover, but teams led by managers who support such activities perform worse.
The key lesson for managers is if you over-optimize for fun and experiences, you may sub-optimize for performance and productivity.
Assuming we all want to work in places that are entertaining or amusing is misguided.
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