Imagine your work. Or your college responsibilities if you don’t have a job yet. Now try to think of the most boring and exhausting task you have to do, but you still haven’t done it because it’s much easier to put it aside for as long as possible. Most people call these tasks ‘work’, some lucky ones call them ‘play’.
The West: Playfully going about what is important
When we look at the companies where people are dreaming of working we can detect one little, but important difference they have discovered by comparison with other employers. The “dream companies” are offering a chance for their employees to turn work into play.
More and more companies are encouraging fun in their workplaces. There are some enlightened companies that are beginning to get this, especially companies in research and development and design. Not only does having a playful atmosphere attract young talent, but experts say play at work can boost creativity and productivity in people of all ages. There is good evidence that if employees are engaged in something they want to do, which is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.
Play at work can also lower stress levels, boost optimism, and increase motivation to move up in a company and improve concentration and perseverance. There’s some evidence from animal studies that engaging in play opens up new neural connections in the brain, leading to greater creativity.
An organization’s office space says a lot about its values and workplace culture. By incorporating playful elements and design into the work environment, a company can differentiate itself from competitors, helping retain talent and attract new employees. We all know what offices at Google, LinkedIn and Facebook look like, and it is sometimes hard to believe that employees work well next to colorful playgrounds and always positive-oriented environments. Companies are filling their spaces with vibrant colors, games, interior gardens and, in some cases, large slides as a way to stimulate the imaginations of their employees and reduce the pressure associated with meeting goals and deadlines.
Companies are supporting their employees in many ways, but the final decision on how employees will work best is a concern to every single one of them. Changing a mindset to see challenges as hurdles that, once surmounted, lead to rewards, being relaxed during stressful moments, not taking the job as it is, but constantly trying to improve it. Laughing often. It also appears that merely placing the label “play” on a particular activity influences how much we are able to enjoy the task and focus on it. A study by Sophia Snow and Ellen Langer found that when difficult activities were labeled as ‘play’ as opposed to ‘work’, participants enjoyed the tasks more and their minds seemed to wander less throughout the activity.
While Western companies are trying to transform work into play, Eastern companies have learned to build a wall around work while maintaining awareness of it during the hours before and after the work day.
The East: A collective approach
Working culture in the East differs materially and offers a range of habits that provide a measure of relaxation before even going to work. Another important fact is that Eastern culture will not engage in business until a strong personal relationship has been built. It takes months, if not years, to build these relationships. In China, for instance, it is assumed that about half a dozen dinners, over many months, will be just about right to get to know each other. During these largely social experiences, conversation is about life, children, philosophy, the arts, and a host of other topics that have nothing to do with business such as politics. Only after a potential partner gets to know you, and trust you, will the door be opened to discuss business.
An extremely productive and effective society, as evidenced by their economic muscle, is Japan. The Japanese are rigidly ceremonious when it comes to making deals. To the foreigner, or gaijin, as the locals call them, Japanese business customs seem so deeply entrenched in their foreign culture and traditions that they couldn’t possibly work for us in the West. Many Japanese businesses start their day off with a morning meeting, where workers line up and chant the company’s slogans as a way of inspiring motivation and loyalty, and as a means of keeping the company’s goals fresh in their minds. On the surface this ritual may look like some kind of cultish indoctrination, but it’s the Japanese equivalent of the motivational pep talk. Morning rallies serve as a daily reminder of the company’s long-term goals, which can get obscured by the daily grind of individual tasks.
To implement some parts of Japanese culture you should remind yourself each time you sit at your desk what you’re working for. It helps you refresh your long-term goals in your mind, and stay aware of how essential teamwork is to getting there.
Do the Japanese combine work and play? No, they don’t, instead they keep work and play strictly separate until the last minute of the work day. After hours of grueling negotiations, Japanese workers are ready to cut loose. Way loose. Barhopping after work is a common, if not expected, tradition. If the workplace is stiff and ceremonial, the bar is where Japanese businessmen release the inner beast. A perennial favorite is the karaoke bar, where everyone is expected to sing along, even if they can’t carry a tune. Besides being a place to balance work with fun, nightspots are where coworkers bond and share information, reinforcing affiliation with a team.
Obviously, when choosing an appropriate way of relaxation after a tough day or week at work, you shouldn’t rest all your hopes on alcohol, especially since it is harmful not only to a tired body, but to a healthy one too. It’s important to not let work dominate one’s life. Leisure is just as important a part of one’s day, because it releases tension and soothes anxieties. When done with coworkers, it’s a nonverbal commitment to remain part of the group.
Working hours are getting longer and longer and when a job demands half of your day, it’s time to seriously rethink your working strategy. Changing the mindset is the first step and trying to turn your work into play is second. Even Mark Twain claimed that “work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.“ And well … he was right.
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