Modern offices, especially in tech, have become known as adult playgrounds that foster creativity and collaboration.
Modern offices, especially in the tech sector, have become known as adult playgrounds that foster creativity and collaboration. The image of millennials playing ping pong at work is its own meme in the age of The Social Network. And there’s a prevailing idea that the younger the workforce, the more cutting edge and productive the company.
But new research suggests that this sentiment is off base—sort of. According to a recent study by psychologists from the University of Konstanz in Germany, it’s not age that makes for increased creativity and productivity, but perceived age.
The study looked at 107 German companies from different sectors and asked employees how old they were, how old they felt, and how successful they were at work (e.g., whether they had met their goals for the year). Researchers also talked to managers about how well the companies were faring financially. They found that most employees felt about four years younger than their actual age, with the gap becoming more pronounced among the oldest workers. And sure enough, the younger the employees of a given company perceived themselves, the better the company performed.
So in-office slides and pool tables may actually drive results. “The biggest driver of performance in complex industries like software is serendipitous interaction,” said data analyst Ben Waber in The New York Times. “For this to happen, you also need to shape a community.” Thus, Google’s rock wall, Acuity’s indoor Ferris wheel, and a dedicated service that delivers arcade games to San Francisco offices.
These add-ons, which some consider too juvenile, may be the key to a happier, more youthful and ultimately more successful company. The German researchers note, “Companies should perhaps worry less about the chronological aging of their employees, but rather undertake measures that stimulate their workforce to feel younger than their chronological age.”
Image credit: Fast Company