Physicist Albert Einstein found great joy in his hobby — playing the violin.
Maybe you paint, keep a journal or knit. Or maybe you play bass in a punk rock band.
Whatever hobby you have, keep at it. A little study published this week suggests that having a creative outlet outside the office might help people perform better at work.
Psychologists from San Francisco State University found that the more people engaged in their hobbies, the more likely they were to come up with creative solutions to problems on the job. And no matter what the hobby was, these people were also more likely to go out of their way to help co-workers.
The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.
"We found that in general, the more you engage in creative activities, the better you'll do," says Kevin Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State and the study's lead author.
The researchers surveyed about 350 people with a variety of jobs (and a variety of hobbies) about what they did in their free time and also asked about their behavior at work. Those who said they engaged fairly often in a creative activity scored 15 to 30 percent higher on performance rankings than those who engaged in creative activities only ccasionally.
The researchers also surveyed a second group of 90 U.S. Air Force captains. The psychologists knew that these folks were already trained to solve tough problems, and help others — so they wanted to see if having a hobby affected their performance in any way. In addition to asking the officers about their own work performance, the researchers checked performance reviews from the captains' co-workers and bosses.
It turned out that for both groups, having a creative outlet boosted work performance. And that's after the scientists took into account other things that might influence performance — like personality.
"Some people have a personality that's more creative," Eschleman tells Shots. To judge how naturally creative participants were, the researchers asked them, for example, to rate (on a scale from 1 to 7) how open they are to new experiences and how much they value art.
The study only confirms that having a creative outlet and being creative at work are correlated, Eschleman says. He can't really say if one causes the other.
But, he says, he suspects that behaviors at work and home reinforce each other. "It's very possible that those who are performing better at their jobs also have more energy to pursue these creative activities," he says. And, in turn, participating in creative activities may help people feel more energized and engaged at work. "You almost kind of spiral in a positive direction," he says.
And while the paper doesn't pin down exactly how or why your weekend forays into the wonderful world of soap-making might help your professional life, Eschleman says it's likely because hobbies can help people learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses. "Creative activities really can provide you the opportunity to learn something new about yourself."
Hobbies can also provide an escape from everyday stresses. "You're using that time to recharge," he says.
So bosses should encourage employees to take up hobbies, Eschleman says. Maybe even consider hooking workers up with discount coupons for a pottery class.