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Kitten Races, Ping Pong, Naps -- and Productivity?

Kitten Races, Ping Pong, Naps -- and Productivity?

Fans of user-generated news site Reddit recently applauded SocialVibe's fun work environment by helping its kitten race picture go viral.

The adorable event made sense for SocialVibe, as the company believes letting loose every once in a while instills a strong culture and promotes camaraderie.

"Everyone that works at SocialVibe is fun, smart and passionate with tons of different hobbies," says Tiffany Leslie, director of marketing communications at the company. "Creating a fun atmosphere that matches the people who work here creates a strong family-type bond between everyone and actually helps breakdown department and regional silos that develop naturally."

While it made headlines in recent weeks, incorporating a good time at work is nothing new.

Related: Spring Break Plans? Open Your Mind and Rekindle Your Love of Entrepreneurship 

Google's Seattle office boasts a rock climbing wall and volleyball court, cloud-storage company Rackspace touts a $40,000 slide and LinkedIn has weekly activities for its interns, like sushi-making classes.

And while the big guns are able to fork over cash for lavish fun activities, small businesses and startups are also jumping on board.

YoungEntrepreneur.com Editor Diana Ransom wrote about Portland’s Migration Brewing back in 2011. Not only does it do the standard employee outings to places like happy hour and lunches, it also participated in a soapbox race. While the team didn’t take home a prize, or even cross the finish line, owner McKean Banzer-Lausberg believes events like these help cultivate a positive work environment.

"We are all in it together, and fun provides good morale for everyone," Banzer-Lausberg says. "It provides work [life] balance and essentially allows people to work hard but also show appreciation to everyone in the company."

Related: How to Have a Social Life as a Young Trep 

Even I have succumbed to fun at work. During an internship at Business Insider, I participated in its bi-annual ping pong tournament. While getting crushed in the second round by a Business Insider ping pong champion, the competition did allow me to engage with staff I had little or no contact with on a daily basis, including CEO Henry Blodget.

While this all seems like fun and games, there is a science behind work play. According to Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Play, incorporating playfulness into the work environment has shown to improve productivity, increase focus, amp up engagement and attentiveness and produce overall optimism.

Even though there are a slew of reasons for incorporating fun, many startups remain hesitant to kick back and relax.

"There is a whole tradition of assembly line thinking that if you are not perseverant and grinding it out and not paying attention to just the work process, work is not going to get done and you aren’t responsible," says Dr. Brown.

Plus, when launching a startup and having a deadline for your launch date, time isn’t exactly on your side.

Related: Working Too Much or Too Little? 3 Tips for Finding Balance 

Yet, working in a constant pressure cooker environment can be counterproductive. As it has been reported, constant stress has been known to diminish strategic thinking, decrease focus, drive memory loss and encourage agitation.

Thinking of jumping on the fun bandwagon? Before you invest in a ping pong table, a seemingly iconic symbol in the startup community, remember everyone’s idea of fun is different. Similar to Google, a startup can offer a variety of activities for both introverts and extroverts.

If funds are extremely tight, as they often are in the startup world, Dr. Brown suggestions setting aside a certain percentage of elective time, where employees may do whatever they want -- be it take a nap, read a book or play a little foosball.

Worked at a startup? Share your stories of how the work environment hindered your productivity or boosted it.

Andrea Huspeni is an article editor at Entrepreneur. 

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