Sometimes, it can feel like work becomes your whole world. Long meetings, looming deadlines, and endless responsibilities pile up. On top of that, remote schedules are making it harder to differentiate between office and home life. But it’s critical for employee well-being that work doesn’t become continuously overwhelming and lead to burnout. This is where hobbies can help.
Why the hype over hobbies?
There are tangible productivity benefits when employees are encouraged to pursue personal interests outside of work. Jamie Kurtz, a professor of psychology at James Madison University, offers a few:
- It encourages efficiency. The concept of Parkinson’s law says that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Without the structure provided by hobbies, that unscheduled time might fill up with work done more efficiently. This means that employees could be inclined to work slower to fill their time.
- It promotes “flow.” Binge-watching Netflix is great in moderation. But have you ever lost track of time doing something more productive, like playing an instrument or learning a new skill? That’s flow, and it’s a desirable state of mind in which time flies and self-consciousness dissipates.
- It helps build a connection with other people. Solo activities have their place too, but many hobbies encourage meeting new people with shared interests. That kind of human connection is crucial for a happy and meaningful life.
- It makes people more engaging. Hobbies are something to chat about at the water cooler. People want to be around and work with those with passions and stories to tell—this inspires people.
- It reduces stress. Hobbies like sports or art are more than distractions from a bad day. They remind people that they are more than just their job. So, when the work aspect of their life creates stress, there are other aspects creating value.
What questions of encouragement can leaders ask?
Sometimes, your employees need help to get ideas and possibilities flowing. When that happens, consider prompting them with these questions, says Tara Parker-Pope:
- “What is that thing you’ve always wanted to do?”
Tapping into a long-standing desire could be the catalyst they need and tailored to their interests. Not everyone wants to play tennis or take a pottery class, but to some employees, it’s the perfect escape.
- “What did you like to do when you were a child?”
Remind them that it’s never too late to revisit old interests, even ones that have been dormant for decades. Someone who loved their high school theater class could still get joy from acting or set dressing now.
- “How do you like to spend time?”
It’s not just about the past. What do they like to do now? How can they expand upon that? A desire to teach their dog new tricks could lead to agility competitions or a love of reading might make way for writing a book.
- “What sparks your interest?”
Encourage research, like browsing hobby ideas online or strolling through an arts and crafts store.
- “Can you find a class?”
This is great for those hobbies they’re not quite sure about. They can explore improv, weightlifting, or slam poetry in a casual environment conducive to exploration.
- “Are your kids doing anything that might interest you?”
Kids can be a source of inspiration, too. Something that captures their young imagination might be just as captivating for a grown-up.
- “Are you looking to improve a certain brain function?”
Perhaps there’s something they’re particularly eager to boost. For example, exercise enhances mental performance, creative hobbies like painting increase problem-solving abilities, and playing an instrument strengthens the corpus callosum (an area of the brain which bridges the left and right sides).
- “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?”
If they’re anxious or scared about how a hobby could play out, walking through possible scenarios could help quell concerns.
How else can organizations support hobbies?
It’s natural to want employees to be passionate about their jobs. But their jobs shouldn’t be everything. According to a study at San Francisco State University, those who pursue passions outside of work showcased better creative problem-solving. An out-of-office outlet also helped them recover from job demands, increased their sense of control, and encouraged them to learn skills to apply at work. Organizations can support these efforts through policies that enable employees to explore their interests, such as unlimited PTO, short work hours on Fridays, and volunteer opportunities.
Creating internal opportunities for employees’ personal growth is a win-win situation, and there are real-world examples of companies applying this:
- Mars, Inc., best known for sweets like M&M’s and Twix candy bars, offers a different kind of treat to its employees, paying for up to 16 hours of volunteer work per year to do work—and hobbies—that would otherwise be unpaid. It’s a practice that helps keep employees engaged and committed while giving them deeper ties to their community and pride in their values.
- Zappos encourages its employees to show off their interests by decorating their desks to reflect their individuality. Their office walls display employee artwork and posters of things they love. They also turned their core values into a coloring book, an impactful way to spark creativity.
Organizations can also create resource groups for non-work activities. Cross-team and generational collaboration and networking could occur while participating in an escape room or during a book club. Executives and managers can lead by example, showing how getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself is a worthwhile endeavor. Like many things in life, interests come and go. Your employees might fall in love with a hobby and eventually lose that spark, and that’s okay. That’s when it’s as important as ever to encourage seeking out new ones.