Third Place Events – a slice of time

February 1, 2016

By: Jennifer Evans

There are a number of perhaps surprising activities that evidence increasingly shows support wellness, happiness, creativity, and vitality. With a few clicks of the internet you can see the proven benefits of things we generally think of as child’s play.

Positive organizational psychology research demonstrates that increased personal well-being both benefits individual productivity and promotes a positive organizational culture. For example as stated by Professor Kim Cameron, “Inducing positive emotions enlarges cognitive perspectives and enables people to attend to more information, make richer interpretations, and experience higher creativity and productivity.”

So, could this mean that the activities that I’ve introduced in my workplaces over the years might really matter?   

Seeing the evidence that adds this up is a bit of a celebration for me because my past efforts have sometimes been noted as “fun, cute, nice” but not necessarily perceived as impactful. While some of my colleagues have enjoyed and appreciated what I’ve shared, I’ve been doing what I do off to the side, underground and by the way. They have been organizationally accepted as a side dish. Not essential.

Run the experiment

So with the support of the research I thought to “run the experiment” as Professor Robert E. Quinn would say and offer a few of these evidenced-based practices to my staff colleagues at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. It is a bit of a leap because the staff at this high-ranking business school are a sophisticated bunch. But after all, a number of our scholars study the effects of positive practices on organizations so if not here, where?

What’s it all about?

As I started to formulate an invitation and to consider how to promote unfolding and varied activities under some kind of umbrella, the phrase “third place” came to mind.

What is Third Place?

When I lived in Seattle I discovered a community space called Third Place Books. The book store with cozy chairs was about one third of what had been the second floor of a former department store. The rest of the space held library tables, shelves with games to play, a stage, a huge on the floor chess board, and a food court.

I learned that the concept of” “third place” was coined by an urban sociologist named Ray Oldenburg. He describes homes as our first place, work as our second, and emphasizes our often unmet need for a third. “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres.”

So as I thought about the activities and this model and the fact that the physical space is “at work,” I considered that we could have a “third place” with our “third-ness” defined by a slice of time rather than a place in space. And I started to invite.

Third Place menu

The well-being promoting activities on our Third Place menu so far include:

  • Lunch with Ted (Talks)  
  • Color Yourself Healthy
  • Sing a Song, It’ll make your day  

Once I’ve I hit send on my google invite and watch the “declined” notes pile up I feel a bit worried that maybe this is not such a great idea. Then I notice that the “accept’s” begin trickling in and I recall that both the research and the individuals who say yes are affirming that fun ideas are maybe much more. Most helpful is when I recall that I am simply “running the experiment” and letting the outcome inform my next foray.

Jennifer Evans
Faculty Support Services
Michigan Ross