Click here to go back to the previous page

or click here to go to the front page

Improving Productivity in the Workplace


By DrItza Lottabul






Productivity measurement studies (PMS) in moderncomputerised offices have resulted in significant reassessments of therespective roles of work and relaxation time in the workplace. Although manymanagers regard PMS as little more than a recurrent and unavoidable pain, theycan result in radical re-evaluations of the value of non-work in a workenvironment.


Most workplaces make little allowance for “down time”or relaxation exercises for computer-operating workers. But employers areincreasingly aware of the need for breaks and muscle relaxation exercises forhealth reasons.


This paper argues for the value in workplacesituations of the playing of games, known in productivity studies as theBeneficial Outlet of Formatted Fun (BOFF). Repeated studies have shown thatworkers who BOFF regularly report a 17% rise in on-the-job satisfaction.Furthermore, co-workers who BOFF together report an incredible 41% drop instress levels and a 28% increase in communication.[i]


Most workers are used to BOFFing in their spare time,but studies indicate that many would like to BOFF in the office, often with awork colleague. Although most workers are aware that some of their colleaguesare solo BOFFers, the office offers unprecedented opportunities for group BOFFsinvolving two or more co-workers. Such tactics may be regarded by some managersas morally lax or an inappropriate use of office time, but Time & Motionstudies are clear that workers returning to their work tasks after a good BOFFare more relaxed, happier and more productive than those who try to workwithout relaxation breaks.






It is a fact little appreciated outside ProductivityMeasurement that only a fraction of the time employees spend in front of acomputer can be classified as “work”.


In a typical office environment work tasks can belimited to the following elements of the typical working day:



By contrast, non-work tasks account for 61% of theworking day. This divides up as follows:



The rest of employees’ time is spent playing games.This provides an immediate benefit compared to other non-work activities. Thefirst benefit is that workers playing games are not changing their wallpaper,discussing last night’s TV, misunderstanding elementary instructions, etc.which helps to foster the illusion that they may not be bored, unimaginativewastrels after all. Simultaneously, workers playing games are not spendingtheir time trying to fix things or alphabetise them, both of which inevitablylead to more confusion and breakages.[iii]




Gamesat work, not games with work


Office workers have developed a number of defensivetactics and responses at work to cover the fact that they are not reallyworking. Before computers, workers would cover their desk with letters, reportsand random paperwork to give the illusion of activity. Since the virtualdesktop has removed the space-filling activity of handwriting, workers havebeen forced to find more subtle means of disguising inactivity. These include:



Beyond this, the knowledge that a certain task has tobe completed during the day can, with careful time management, fill the daywith pseudo-productive work. The morning can be spent fiddling on the principlethat “I’ve got all day”. Before lunch an appropriately named document can becreated so that there is something to point to if asked. In the afternoon agrudging attempt to tackle the task will be made, only to be interrupted by anemergency, leaving the task itself to be rushed off in the five minutes beforeleaving for home in the evening.


Such a work plan leaves the employee anxious andguilty, and the task inadequately completed. It is a far better solution toacknowledge that the worker will spend as little time as possible doing hardwork, and allow them to positively structure their time accordingly. A workercan spend half an hour playing games, satisfying their desire to do somethinginteresting, and spend the next 30 minutes performing the requested task (i.e.a 600% increase in work per hour).


Playing games at work brings a number of otherbenefits. The top reported benefits of workplace games players are:





Benefitsfor employers


It is well known that most workers would rather bedoing anything than working. However, there’s plenty of stuff you don’t wantthem to be doing: scheming behind your back, criticising management decisions,conducting office romances, behaving like human beings, etc. Allowing yourworkers to play games on their office computers effectively keeps them at theirdesks and stops them from talking, eavesdropping, reprogramming officetelephones, misfiling things, and a host of other productivity-damagingactivities.


Many employers are finding that, since smoking isbanned in offices, smoking employees are taking frequent cigarette breaksthroughout the working day. These involve the worker leaving the office tosmoke with colleagues. Who knows what they’re talking about? They’re probablydiscussing you, and thinking up new ways to make you look stupid. Isn’t itbetter to keep them at their desks?


The only way to do this is to offer workers somethingeven more addictive than cigarettes. Unless you’re prepared to open up aColombian branch of your company to ensure a ready supply of hard drugs foryour employees, the most effective option is to allow them to play games in theoffice. Try giving your employees a regular ‘games break’ in the same way thatyou would allow them a regular cigarette break. Aside from anything else, theywill feel so bewildered by your far-sighted progressive working practices thatthey will be guilt-tripped into doing some proper work for you.


Serious scientific studies have also indicated thatthe human mind needs many of the stimulus factors found in games:



But nobody ever listens to serious scientific studies.So think of it this way:


They’re playing aroundanyway, so let them play constructively


Let people unwind: they’ll thank you for it[vii]


They’re wasting time when they’re playing games, sowhen they’re not playing games, they must be working[viii]


Happy workers do happywork[ix]


A stitch in time savesnine


Two stitches in time saveeighteen[x]




Employers want workers withthe following characteristics:



Given that they’ll get noneof these things in the real world, give them the next best thing: success in agame. You may have lost the last month’s accounts down the back of the filingcabinet, but if you hold the computer pinball record you’ll be a winner at something.Let’s face it, Human Resources are always being told to find what people aregood at and get them to do it. The fact is, some of us are better at games thananything else. Be all that you can be. If that’s not much, don’t blameus.


Dr ItzaLottabul is Professor of PMS at Arooga University. His papers, ‘Playing forProductivity: A New Approach’ and ‘Playing for Productivity: An Old Approach’,have been widely recycled. Views expressed in this article are not necessarilythose of the editors, or indeed the writer.


SURVEY: Survey group of 5,012 was ignored over a 5-dayperiod. All answers were adjusted for what Dr Lottabul needed to show.

Statistical error: +/-2 inches.

Click here to go back to the previous page


[i] Although 21% of the communication increase is associated with co-workerswho share a post-BOFF cigarette break.

[ii] Includes a figure of 1% of time spent anxiouslychecking obscure footnotes. You added up the percentages as well, didn’t you?

[iii] Some workersattempt to multi-task fixing printers and alphabetising by spending their timealphabetising computer printouts. Why do I spend my life studying thesenumbskulls? Why? I could have been a ski instructor!

[iv] This must be accompanied bythe observation that many employees have little enough to have their mindscleared of.

[v] By contrast, making drinks improves hand-kettle co-ordination, andattempting to explain what you’re doing to your boss improves foot-mouthco-ordination.

[vi]  We apologise for this obvious nonsense.

[vii]  They won’t, actually, but they’ll feel guilty, which is much thesame thing

[viii]  If you’re convinced by this point, you may also be interested ininvesting in our lunar deep sea diving project. See

[ix]  It has been suggested that hard workers do hard work, but thisclaim is unverifiable in a modern workplace.

[x]  Or, for a limited time only, twenty.