But it stands to reason that playful design helps employees stay young at heart, which in turn could have a big impact on a company’s success. That’s the key take from a new study of “subjective” employee age among 107 businesses. A research trio led by Florian Kunze of the University of Konstanz in Germany reports that workers who feel younger than their true age reach more personal job goals, which in turn predicts a higher level of overall company accomplishment.
Phrased another way: maybe we should let adults embrace the idea of “play” at work.
This is maybe the single-biggest thing that confuses me about work. We hide everything behind the need for “professionalism” and “process” — which isn’t even really true, because those concepts only apply high — > low, meaning a higher-ranking person can say to a lower-ranking person “You’re not professional enough,” but a lower-ranking person can never say that to a higher-ranking person — and then, even though people are always violating core norms of “professionalism” (throwing a project in your lap with no context and without seeking approval from your manager, for example), we have this need to still talk about professionalism, process, routine, and control … and that makes us think that if we let adults have “play” time, that’s not right. That’s not something we should be doing. Etc, etc.
That’s what I don’t get, in the grand scheme of things: the most successful companies in terms of people basically let their people do what they want, within reason. The whole reason ideas like “ROWE” — Results-Only Work Environments, baby! — don’t work is because managers want to control every second of a person’s time. In essence, they want to treat them like we treat 1st graders. The difference is: first-graders are allowed to play. Adults are not, at least not at work.
Think about that ‘ROWE’ concept for a second, right? The first two words are results-only. What else actually is supposed to matter at work? It’s a contract that essentially says “You do these things, we’ll pay you this money.” So if you get judged off results — those things — that would seem logical, no? But almost every company who has tried this fails within six months. Why? Because for most people (especially managers), we talk about “results” and “deliverables” but that’s not what we actually care about. We care about things like seat time, about being respectful, about acknowledging the hierarchy, etc. That’s what people really want. To get their promotion, get their extra money, get their respect, and then not rock the boat until it’s time for retirement. At least, that’s how most generations seem to play it. And if you think millennials will be different, I hope you’re right … but I ain’t so sure.
Just consider a management style whereby people are free, within reason, to pursue the tasks, objectives, and concepts they want … so long as that value, on your clock, is back to your organization. Let people play once in a while. Let people run in the sunshine. It’s OK. Really. The deliverables will always be there.