Why companies should pay for employees' fun

25/03/2014 16:37


Obvious Health Benefits

Lots of companies pay for corporate gyms, membership to other gyms, yoga lessons and other healthy 

activities for their staff. They usually say it’s because they know that “healthy employees are happier, work better and take fewer days off due to illness,” or something similar. It’s common, the benefits are obvious and the rationale is pretty much universally accepted.

How about paying for not so obviously ‘healthy’ extra-curricular activities? Wine tasting, music, art, movies, baking, photography…?

I think there are a few more reasons why companies should encourage all kinds of extra-curricular activities.

The Importance of Social Capital

The better we know a person, and build a mutual respect for them through shared interests and experiences, the more likely we are to trust them and the more willing we are to do things for them; we are more likely to hold ourselves personally accountable to each other, help each other and keep promises.

Socialising, friendship, shared interests and relationship development leads to better and broader social networks, in the old fashion, human sense – not facebook, twitter etc. When we know each other better, we are more likely to know who to go to for help on tasks needing certain areas of expertise which makes any team more efficient.

There is an interesting analysis in the paper Trust, Social Capital, and Organizational Effectiveness which concludes that trust and social capital are mutually reinforcing—social capital generates trusting relationships that in turn produce social capital.

Bourdieu goes as far to link economic capital directly to social capital: “… social capital, made up of social obligations (‘connections’) which is convertible […] into economic capital”. I would argue that it should include expectation as well as obligation, but the point is that building social capital is directly linked to the creation of economic capital which is in turn directly convertible into money!

It is in the interest of any employer that their staff know and trust each other and that they build social capital. Sport and social clubs are an easy way to kick-start this process.

Consequences of a Single Dominant Ambition

Often, when a person has one dominant ambition – a cyclist wanting to wear the yellow jersey, an elite athlete trying to win an Olympic medal – the self esteem and feeling of self-worth for that person can be very closely tied to the pursuit of that one single achievement. The ambition can be so dominating that many people would be prepared to cheat to achieve their goals, to win at any cost. Robert Goldman even found that during the 1980’s more than half of the athletes he asked would be prepared cheat to win even if the trade off was certain death! 

Many parallels could be drawn with this to other professions and careers where people feel so passionately about their job, or one particular aspect of their work that they will commit fraud to achieve their goals. Stock market traders falsifying deal tickets, corporate bankers doing morally questionable deals, insurance brokers mis-selling policies – all to meet commission targets or to get a bigger bonus.

It is not unusual for finance professionals and bankers to feel very strongly about their annual bonus number. It could be said that some even define themselves to a large extent by this number.

If we have some other interest, hobby or goal in life that contributes to being a more rounded person, which possibly gives something else by which to define ourselves, it can help bring the dominant ambition back into perspective and we might be less desperate to achieve the ‘one’ goal and therefore less likely to cheat, to commit fraud or to want to win at any cost.

Benefits of a well rounded, balanced workforce

If staff who are more well balanced, rather than singularly ambitious are less likely to cheat or commit fraud, employers should see reduced costs of fraud prevention, remediation, risk management, control and supervision.

We could even extrapolate to hypothesise that an employer could get away with paying less to employees who have other goals in life than money because it will not make such a huge difference to their perceived self worth or happiness. Thus, investing a little in corporate recreation and sports clubs could yield direct financial returns.

Being more balanced in the way that we define ourselves means that we value more than just one thing in our lives. If we value our family life, our sporting achievements make us feel good, we are proud of our photography skills or we enjoy improving our “connaissance” of different wines, we are more likely to easily brush off a bad day at work and we are less likely to cheat in order to get one up on the career ladder or to squeeze that extra dollar from our client.