Hopefully, you don’t need an extra reason to enjoy your hobbies, but if you happen to be one of the many professionals who are struggling to keep their constant busyness from encroaching on their favorite activities, a new study might give you a motivation boost to keep up with your pastime of choice.

The research out of San Francisco State University looked at how creative activities like knitting, cooking, painting, photography, gardening or what-have-you affect work performance. In a two-part study the team of psychologists asked 341 professionals about their pastimes and also asked them to rate both their level of creativity at work and the level to which they support their colleagues. Another group of 92 Air Force Captain also gave information about their afterhours pursuits and had their evaluations of job performance examined.

"We found that in general, the more you engage in creative activities, the better you'll do," said the study’s lead author Kevin Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State. 

Knitting Your Way to Better Performance

The analysis showed that those who engaged in a creative hobby performed between 15-30 percent better at work. The team offered several possible explanations for why this might be so. Taking time to indulge in your favorite creative pursuit might help you recharge before heading back to work, or could also be a means to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, knowledge that will benefit you professionally as well. Those who engaged in a hobby also reported greater feelings of control and mastery.

Whatever the mechanism, the authors acknowledge that part of what may be going on is simply a selection bias. Those that choose to do these sorts of hobbies are simply more likely to be creative types and bring though skills to work with them, rather than the hobbies causing greater creativity.

An Office Bakeoff?

For this reason (and because coercion is a lousy motivation strategy), the researchers stress it’s a bad idea for managers to push their people into developing afterhours hobbies because of the study results. "One of the main concerns is that you don’t want to have someone feel like their organization is controlling them, especially when it comes to creative activities,"  Eschleman said, "because intrinsic motivation is part of that unique experience that comes with creative activity."

Instead, the study offers others suggestions: "Large organizations, such as Zappos Inc., incorporate employee artwork into office decorations. Other similar activities commonly found in organizations include food cook-offs, cross-discipline education opportunities, and costume contests during holidays. A more cost-effective and less intrusive approach for organization is to inform employees that creative activity may help them recover from the workplace."