There are many studies that measure how productivity at the workplace is affected by family life, but not nearly enough attention has been given to the influence of leisure activities. Seeking to bridge the gap, researchers led by Ciara Kelly, a lecturer in work psychology at Sheffield University, UK, studied how hobbies affect work performance.
The team recruited 129 volunteers who each had at least one hobby, from climbing to improv comedy. The seriousness with which each participant approached their hobbies was measured with a scale measuring test where they had to rate how much they agreed with statements like “I regularly train for this activity.” The researchers took note of how similar the hobbies were to the participants’ work activities.
After this initial assessment, once a month for seven months the participants recorded the number of hours they spent on their hobbies and completed a questionnaire that measured how confident they felt at being effective at their jobs. For instance, they had to rate how much they agreed with statements like “At work I am able to successfully overcome many challenges.” Finally, the participants also completed a questionnaire that gauged their work resilience.
When they treated their hobbies seriously by dedicating a larger than average amount of time to them, the participants’ belief in their ability to perform well at the workplace increased.
However, this conclusion was only valid if the hobby was dissimilar enough from the workplace activity. Otherwise, if the leisure activity is too similar to a person’s job, the reverse effect was observed. The participants who had a serious hobby that was similar to their job reported decreasing self-efficacy.
“We found that time spent on leisure over and above an individual’s average was positively related to work-related self-efficacy, but only when the individual’s leisure activities were high in seriousness and low in work-leisure similarity, or when they were low in seriousness and high in similarity. Investing time in leisure was negatively associated with self-efficacy when leisure activities were high in seriousness and similar to an individual’s work. Our findings paint a complex picture of the potential influence of leisure on career sustainability and highlight the need to take a nuanced approach when studying the effects of leisure,” the authors wrote in their study’s abstract.
The researchers suspect that this may be due to the fact that performing tasks with roughly the same kind of demands in both situations leaves a person psychologically drained. Conversely, a dissimilar hobby — a scientist interested in rock climbing or an engineer who takes amateur theater lessons — engages a person in other activities that offer more headspace.
These results, which were published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, suggest that companies looking to boost employee productivity and morale might do themselves a favor by encouraging employees to pursue their hobbies — as long as they’re not too similar to what they do at work.