Roll your eyes all you want at startup headquarters filled with ping pong tables and plastic ball pits, but there's reason to believe that silly office playthings aren't all distraction and fluff.
New research from the University of Konstanz in Germany shows that employees who feel young at heart get more done in the workday than those who act their age. "As the average subjective age of a company dropped, the goals accomplished by this workforce went up," the researchers write in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
It stands to reason that a playful office design encourages a youthful disposition among cohorts. And there's plenty of evidence that play unlocks the childlike creativity often inhibited when we're focused on our computer screens all day.
Here, we take a look at three ways adults are "playing" to boost their mood—and performance:
Adult Coloring Books
You may be surprised to find two adult coloring books currently on Amazon's bestseller list. Scottish illustrator Johanna Bansford's "Secret Garden" coloring book sold 1.5 million copies worldwide, and her second book, "Enchanted," came out in February.
"I think there's something quite charming and nostalgic about coloring in. And chances are last time you picked up pens or pencils you didn't have a mortgage or like a really horrible boss or anything," she tells NPR. Psychologists would agree. Coloring has been shown to reduce stress and it stimulates areas of the brain that control fine motor skills.
Lego Sessions for Grownups
Whether you want to build robots or a replica of the Titanic, there's no shortage of opportunities when it comes to Lego creations. The public library in Mountain View, Calif. holds a monthly lunchtime Lego hour—for adults only.
"We've historically done lots of programs like this for children, but we wanted to step up our adult programs. People are seeing that one of the components in productivity is play," librarian Paul Sims tells the San Jose Mercury News. "Places like Microsoft and LinkedIn incorporate play into their culture. It's a chance to be creative."
A Desktop Toy Box
Researchers at New York University are giving you a reason to fidget at your desk. They're studying how manipulating everyday objects like stress balls and Slinkys can spark fresh thinking and faster learning.
"The hand can operate as a director of consciousness—a tool or agent for the mind in achieving a mental state in which people will be able to get the outcome they want," Frank R. Wilson, a neurologist and lecturer, tells the Wall Street Journal. The NYU study is ongoing, and research participants share their "fidget widgets," such as a rubber penguin and magnetics, on Tumblr.
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