Work, rest and play

Dutch researchers say games at work may be good for you.

Playing simple computer games at the office could improve productivity and job satisfaction, research suggests.  Scientists from the University of Utrecht have studied the effects of game playing on 60 employees in a Dutch insurance firm.  The team measured changes in work and job attitudes and found that game players felt better about their job.  Many big companies ban games which come as standard on many computers, saying they are just a waste of workers' time.
The results suggest that, instead of games being a waste of time at work, they might help personal productivity and make people feel better about their jobs.  A round of Solitaire could be used as a strategy to break up the day and help people work more effectively because it gives their brain a break from complex work tasks.  "I compare games with a coffee break. If you are like me, you use them in strategic, functional, useful way," Professor Goldstein says.  Also being free to play games within certain limits, and having more choice over how they spend their work day, could contribute to job satisfaction.
Simple computer games like Solitaire and Minesweeper have social advantages because they are fun, they provide distraction, involvement, and elements of competition against yourself and others, he says.  "People even talk about their games over coffee or on the bus," says Professor Goldstein.  Some of the Professor's previous research involved elderly residents of a women's nursing home.  After playing computer games for some time, there was evidence suggesting their cognitive skills and general sense of well-being were significantly improved.  Professor Goldstein and his team presented their most recent findings at the first ever Digital Games Research Association conference, Level Up, in the Netherlands.

During the internship year from hell, Solitaire was often a part of the day.  My supervisor gave me a project that would require a PhD in materials science and a masters in electrical engineering to complete, I had two years of a bachelors in Physics, and I needed the break.  That was in the bad times, when my supervisor was gadding about in Spain doing "how much current do we have to run through this thing before it explodes" testing and I had no-one to ask for help.  It wasn't just me, the whole department was playing.  Freecell was a revelation when it came out, because it was less random than solitaire, more thought was required to win.

It seems so obvious that a joyless, miserable work environment will produce less work than a fun place, but look at the average office.  Some people complain underlings are having too much fun, laughing too much, enjoying themselves on company time as if it were a crime.  Compare it to a company where the CEO has been known to dress up as a cheerleader for an employee rally, complete with high heels, short skirt and blonde wig.  Management often gets dressed up and roped into monthly meetings, and there is an annual Halloween costume contest.  This is also a company that has been having record years for at least the last two years, and will probably do so again next year.

Why do some people dedicate their working lives to eradicating fun in the name of efficiency?  They'd do better for productivity to get out the wig and start dancing.

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