Baking a cake or knitting a sweater might not seem like career building activities, but participating in after-work hobbies actually has a measurable impact on workplace performance.
Maintaining such hobbies can make individuals seem more appealing to potential employers, improve their mood, increase their confidence, reduce stress, provide networking opportunities and help them work better with others.
"It gives you a sense of mastery, you're developing new skills, new thought processes and really challenging yourself to learn something new and develop your skill set," said Dr. Kevin Eschleman, an assistant psychology professor at San Francisco State University, who led a study on the correlation between hobbies and job performance.
In his study Eschleman found that hobbies provide a variety of benefits that extend into the workplace. Furthermore, his more recent research has found that the less relevant the activity is to the person’s profession, the greater the impact on workplace performance.
"Whatever the activity is that you're doing in your free time, it becomes incredibly more valuable if it is different from what you've been doing most recently in your work environment," he said. "People need to be mindful and aware of what resources they're using in the work environment to realize which resources they need to protect and refuel in their free time."
One activity that Eschleman believes can improve overall work performance is yoga.
"I think what a lot of activities similar to yoga and meditation can provide is a kind of mindfulness or self exploration," he said. "It makes you a bit more aware of what's going on internally, and allows you to manage it."
Maren Showkeir would agree. While working as an editor for the Arizona Republic in the late ‘90s—a particularly stressful time to be in the print industry—she took up yoga to help cope with her demanding work life.
"I started sleeping better almost right away," said Showkeir, who has since coauthored a book with her husband called Yoga Wisdom at Work. "I noticed that in meetings, where I used to start to get tightly wound or stressed out about things going on, I started incorporating some of the breathing techniques and I found it easier to settle my mind so it doesn't start running away. It made it easier to focus."
Showkeir adds that yoga also taught her an important virtue commonly accepted amongst musicians and other hobbyists; that while practice makes perfect, perfection is unattainable.
"Musicians know it as well," she said. "They never stop practicing ever, they never get to a place where they say ‘I'm a perfect saxophonist now,’ they practice every day."
Musicianship provides a wide variety skills and values that can increase workplace performance, beyond a creative outlet.
"Learning how to play a musical instrument and becoming a musician is an exercise in developing good listening skills, experimenting, overcoming repeated failure, self-discipline, and successful collaboration," wrote entrepreneur Panos Panay in an article for Fast Company in November. "It is simply impossible to become a successful music professional unless one also masters certain theoretical concepts, develops good presentation and improvisational skills and, ultimately, attains that elusive quality of originality that only comes once fear of failure is overtaken by the desire to acquire a new insight, a fresh perspective and a unique voice."
In his study Eschleman also noted the positive benefits of volunteering, which can provide a more broadened perspective and a sense of community.
"Anything that provides you with a real cognitive shift in how you see the world, that's going to be an asset in terms of your overall health and wellbeing, and also how you solve problems, whether it's in personal relationships or in a work environment," he said.
Contributing to an important cause can also offer networking and leadership opportunities, hands-on skills, a feeling of empowerment and much more, says Tanisha Smith, the national director of volunteer services for Volunteers of America.
"You're connecting with a community, you're accepting that you’re not an island unto yourself," she said. "I think that gives you a new perspective and helps potentially bridge gaps that you didn't know existed."
Another way to improve collaboration skills is through competitive team sports, though it is just one of the many work-related benefits of hitting the court, gym, diamond, rink, track, pool or other sports venue after work.
"Six out of the past 11 U.S. presidents were collegiate athletes," Vincent McCaffrey, CEO of Game Theory Group—a Greenville, N.C.-based recruiting and career services firm with a focus on athletes—told Stephanie Vozza in a story for Fast Company in April. "You can train an employee on the day-to-day job requirements, but you can’t change work ethics. Athletes already have that dedication."
Vozza’s article goes on to explain that athletes have a sense of resilience, are well practiced at managing their time, work well with others, develop strong communication skills and work hard to achieve their goals.
Though it may seem like fun and games, improvised comedy classes teach students how to collaborate, think on their feet, develop ideas and express their creativity without fear of ridicule, which can be invaluable skills in the workplace.
"When you're improvising you're always listening, that's one of the keys to improvising, and you're always building on what your scene partner is saying to you," said Sandy Marshall, vice president of Second City Communications, which has provided improvised comedy classes for more than half of all Fortune 1000 companies. "People take improv classes on their own and with companies all the time so they can gain more confidence in a sales presentation or a client meeting or in customer service."
—Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist born, raised, and residing in Toronto, covering technology, small business, automotive, and music news for every major Canadian publication you've never heard of. When he's not playing with gadgets, interviewing entrepreneurs, or traveling across the continent to music festivals and tech conferences, you can usually find him diligently practicing his third-person bio writing skills.