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Improving Productivity in the Workplace


By Dr Itza Lottabul






Productivity measurement studies (PMS) in modern computerised offices have resulted in significant reassessments of the respective roles of work and relaxation time in the workplace. Although many managers regard PMS as little more than a recurrent and unavoidable pain, they can result in radical re-evaluations of the value of non-work in a work environment.


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


This paper argues for the value in workplace situations of the playing of games, known in productivity studies as the Beneficial Outlet of Formatted Fun (BOFF). Repeated studies have shown that workers who BOFF regularly report a 17% rise in on-the-job satisfaction. Furthermore, co-workers who BOFF together report an incredible 41% drop in stress 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 a work colleague. Although most workers are aware that some of their colleagues are solo BOFFers, the office offers unprecedented opportunities for group BOFFs involving two or more co-workers. Such tactics may be regarded by some managers as morally lax or an inappropriate use of office time, but Time & Motion studies are clear that workers returning to their work tasks after a good BOFF are more relaxed, happier and more productive than those who try to work without relaxation breaks.






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


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



By contrast, non-work tasks account for 61% of the working 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. The first 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, unimaginative wastrels after all. Simultaneously, workers playing games are not spending their time trying to fix things or alphabetise them, both of which inevitably lead to more confusion and breakages.[iii]




Games at work, not games with work


Office workers have developed a number of defensive tactics and responses at work to cover the fact that they are not really working. Before computers, workers would cover their desk with letters, reports and random paperwork to give the illusion of activity. Since the virtual desktop has removed the space-filling activity of handwriting, workers have been forced to find more subtle means of disguising inactivity. These include:



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


Such a work plan leaves the employee anxious and guilty, and the task inadequately completed. It is a far better solution to acknowledge that the worker will spend as little time as possible doing hard work, and allow them to positively structure their time accordingly. A worker can spend half an hour playing games, satisfying their desire to do something interesting, 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 other benefits. The top reported benefits of workplace games players are:





Benefits for employers


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


Many employers are finding that, since smoking is banned in offices, smoking employees are taking frequent cigarette breaks throughout the working day. These involve the worker leaving the office to smoke with colleagues. Who knows what they’re talking about? They’re probably discussing you, and thinking up new ways to make you look stupid. Isn’t it better to keep them at their desks?


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


Serious scientific studies have also indicated that the 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 around anyway, so let them play constructively


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


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


Happy workers do happy work[ix]


A stitch in time saves nine


Two stitches in time save eighteen[x]




Employers want workers with the following characteristics:



Given that they’ll get none of these things in the real world, give them the next best thing: success in a game. You may have lost the last month’s accounts down the back of the filing cabinet, 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 are good at and get them to do it. The fact is, some of us are better at games than anything else. Be all that you can be. If that’s not much, don’t blame us.


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


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

Statistical error: +/-2 inches.

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

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

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

[iv] This must be accompanied by the observation that many employees have little enough to have their minds cleared of.

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

[vi]  We apologise for this obvious nonsense.

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

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

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

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