Being a business leader is so much more than the title in your email signature. Taking the job means wearing a lot of different hats. You’re a sheriff, an architect, a salesperson, and a therapist all rolled into one. Finding fun every day might seem impossible. After all, who has time for fun when there’s work to be done?
But it’s important to remember that a business is a reflection of its leadership. Employees and customers can sense when you’re feeling tense. The troubling thing is that they not only validate your workaholism, they mimic it.
Well, they stand to lose a lot!
That’s because research shows that when leadership encourages employees to schedule routine fun throughout the days, weeks, and months, everyone’s productivity and engagement levels dramatically improve.
In fact, employees are 81% more likely to stay with a company when they are encouraged to take regular breaks—and they have a 78% increase in their sense of healthiness and well-being, according to a Harvard Business Review and Energy Project study.
Finding the Fun
In my new book, The Power of Having Fun, I lay out the importance of discovering your “Oasis” in each of the major sections of your life (Personal, Family, and Work). By Oasis, I’m simply referring to a moment of fun in your life—a refreshing respite necessary for rejuvenating your psyche as you crawl through the desert of modern work life.
A Work Oasis is how you go about taking meaningful, bite-size breaks during your normal work schedule. While the employee is ultimately responsible for taking breaks, as an executive or business owner, you can do a lot to institutionalize this philosophy. Leading by example, talking openly about breaks and time off as value, and scheduling longer monthly breaks will help set the wheels in motion.
Getting into the Rhythm
Spacing out your mini-breaks, or “Oases” (yes, that’s the plural of oasis), is just as important as taking them. The same Harvard Business Review and Energy Project study also found that employees who took breaks at least every 90 minutes reported a 40% increase in creative thinking and a 28% improvement in focus.
Most of us are familiar with a circadian rhythm or “body clock.” Similarly, in a workplace context, you have an optimal cycle for how long you can work until you need to take a break. A sleep researcher, Nathan Kleitman, discovered the ultradian rhythm or “basic rest-activity cycle.”
Just as each person has unique nightly sleep needs, a person’s Work Oasis needs to vary from around 90 to 120 minutes per ultradian cycle.
Even at peak performance, we all get to a point of diminishing returns. If you work past the point where you need a mental break, you’re simply not going to be as productive. By taking and enjoying your oasis, your body will rest its internal clock, recharge its internal battery, and return to optimal levels of performance.
Amazing, right? Once you discover your ultradian rhythm, you can then build a schedule that supports it. The fastest way to find your unique workday rhythm is through experimentation. Make it a team experiment for everyone in the business to determine their rhythm too. This will help get the ball rolling on having more fun in the workplace.
What to Do on a Mini-Oasis?
Now that you know when to step back from work and take short, meaningful breaks—how are you going to fill that time? What you do on those breaks is completely individualized. We all have different opinions on what’s fun. Start by making a list of the things you’d like to do in those short, 15-30 minutes breaks.
While making the list, think back to when you were younger—much younger. Prepubescent even. What did you do for fun at recess? Now, what is the grown-up equivalent of that? Your place of business may not have monkey bars or a kickball field, but perhaps you can play Frisbee with friends in the parking lot or go on a quick hike through that urban playground known as your hometown.
And then there’s the internet! It may seem juvenile, yet passive activities like taking a 15-minute journey down the YouTube wormhole can get you laughing and give endorphins a much needed boost. It might seem like mindless fluff, but meaningful enjoyment—no matter the content—can promote success.
Taking It to the Next Level
Occasionally you or your company may want to consider a “next-level” hiatus. These are longer periods of time dedicated to incorporating fun. If you all work remotely, it may take a bit more creativity depending on your distance from each other, but with the magic of video conferencing, there are ways to make it work.
Many companies become the facilitators of unstructured playtime. Kiva.org, a microfinance charity, affords their employees 30 minutes each day to eat snacks, listen to music, and joke around. LinkedIn’s InDays are entire days dedicated to self-directed fun at work.
Or perhaps an off-site activity would be more fun. Just keep in mind that everyone’s ideas of how to have fun is individualized. Not everyone enjoys bowling!
Look for open-ended opportunities for self-directed play. Company picnics and barbecues might be better for keeping your company bonding experience from becoming a boring company experience.
Time to Act
It’s time to create an action plan and add more fun (and more productivity) to your work environment. Work with your team and work toward getting their buy-in.
Schedule a meeting with your team to discuss some ways to facilitate more meaningful, self-planned breaks daily or multiple times per day. Then talk through what you might do on a monthly, quarterly, or annual cadence.
Your team is the greatest group of potential advocates—or detractors—your company has. Think about all the clients that would become evangelists and rave about your company to others because you’ve made it so simple to enjoy a workday! You can’t buy that kind of PR. It all begins with making fun an essential part of your productivity strategy.