Music festivals: the secret to more productive employees?

Festivals are the absolute opposite of an office environment, and that’s exactly why they could hold the answer to more productive employees.

Music festivals: the secret to more productive employees? Pictured: confetti rains down on a cheering crowd in front of a music stage, while stage-lights shine towards the camera.

Glastonbury has come and gone, and so the summer sun is setting on the British festival season. To some, festivals are a lot like Christmas – you wait for them all year and, before you know it, they’re gone.

To others however, this only means one thing: you’ll no longer have to force a smile as a co-worker rattles off a list of obscure bands that ‘made their year’, while you hide the one thought that sits behind your feigned interest; ‘You didn’t shower for days at a time.’

The unconverted might ask themselves, ‘What exactly is the point of music festivals?’. As a manager, you might even question the reliability of an employee who asks for time off to go to something called ‘Lovebox‘. In reality, however, you might find it’s your festival-mad team members who prove to be more productive employees.

And here’s why.

A bad rap

Aside from the music, the mud and the masses, music festivals have a tendency to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. From underage drinking to illegal drug use, there seems to be plenty of fuel to feed the bad rap festivals accrue every summer. (Although the media proliferation of suspect drug statistics has a lot to answer for in tarnishing the image of music festivals.)

However deserving the reputation may be, you’ve likely found yourself questioning the appropriateness of music festivals as a work vacation.

What an employee does in their own time is, of course, their own business, but should you be worried about an employee who’s asking for time off to immerse themselves in the fantasy world of Boomtown?

History holds the answer

No, you shouldn’t be worried. Why? Because music festivals arguably hold a similar place in modern society as the pre-Lent carnival held in medieval and renaissance Europe. Bear with me here.

Originating as a religious celebration before the fast of Lent in the Catholic calendar, the carnival was host to a banquet of arts – from poetry and music to drama and comedy – and was a full-on fiesta for the public.

With feasting, dancing and costuming, carnival attendees were given the opportunity to step away from their monarchical subjection and revel in a rampant party atmosphere.

These events were a politically charged arena, where the subjects of Europe’s monarchies often chose to transcend their “proper” place. With a mask and costume, farmers became bankers, prostitutes became priests and women became men. In the hierarchical social structure that was rigidly enforced in the medieval era, these pretences would have conservatively been seen as a worrying transgression.

But, as Dr. Michael Lane Bruner suggests, historic carnivals can be considered, not just as ‘official periods of “sanctioned transgression”, but as moments capable of “magically” reinforcing the normal moral and political order by revealing the limits of that order’. In other words, by sanctioning a bit of festive freedom, Europe’s monarchies were in fact reinforcing their subjects healthy cohesion in the social order.

Pieter Bruegel’s 16th century painting 'The fight between Carnival and Lent.' The art depicts a crowded street scene during a carnival in the Netherlands in the 16th century..

1559 – Pieter Bruegel’s ‘The fight between Carnival and Lent.’

What’s all this got to do with more productive employees?

Holding carnivals is a tried and tested model, ensuring the subjects of monarchy returned productively to their proper roles, having let loose their pent-up fantasies of transgression. Fast forward half a millennia, and participating in a bit of festival silliness in order to come back to work fully refreshed still works.

I won’t suggest that your employees booking time off for Reading or Parklife will return to work like a procession of hyper-efficient robots. But, those who choose to take a day trip to Field Day or a long weekend at Bestival are choosing a far more effective cleanse than those who spend their holidays lounging by a pool.

It’s well-documented that active holidays leave workers more refreshed and any Glastonbury-regular will tell you that there is nothing more active than feverishly devouring a packed-out set list. Festivals are places of constant stimulation, exercise and – most importantly – freedom. There’s no better way to shatter the stresses of the modern workplace and spark improved employee productivity.

We’ve written before about the time-off revolution and the real world examples where encouraging time off has developed more productive employees. It’s therefore worth remembering that, contrary to the negative press they receive, music festivals are the ultimate holiday cleanse.

And if belting out Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ is wrong, then I guess I don’t want to be right.


(Hat tip to Flickr user BenGrantham and Wiki respectively for the images)

4 comments on “Music festivals: the secret to more productive employees?

  1. I couldn’t agree with this more. Glastonbury is one of the few times of the year where I feel able to ditch my smart phone, disconnect myself from the ‘real world’ and just live in the moment for a few days.

    It’s a great way to recharge mentally. (Sure, you return home physically exhausted, but that only lasts for a day or two!)

    • Definitely! Getting away from the smart phone and notifications isn’t something I mentioned here, but you’re right: it’s a really important part of winding down.

      You might be sat by a pool the other side of the world, but if you’re connected to the internet the inevitable email pings you receive are bound to pull your mind back to work. There’s something to be said for ‘getting off the grid, man’!

  2. With the right management techniques you can take advantage of that productivity. Learn how to ensure effective remote working by engaging, trusting and empowering your employees to avoid the dangers of the dreaded sofa slump.

  3. Pingback: Don't copy copy: why original content always wins • Articulate

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