Consider for a moment..when was the last time you played?

If you’re lucky, it was quite recently. Though for a many of us, it might have been some time ago. You might wonder why I’m asking the question in the first place and think that play is just for children.

Well I beg to differ!

George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” That’s a sobering thought, really, isn’t it?!

If you were to walk into the headquarters of some of the biggest dotcom businesses, you’d very likely find that they’ve adopted the concept of play at work. Google being one example where they have fully embraced a playful culture for a number of years now. Picture Lego, scavenger hunts and writing on walls.

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Whether or not you embrace play in all it’s creativity, spontaneity and seeming chaos, where do you stand on the subject of play at work? Does this sound like your idea of heaven or something you quite literally have no time for?

You know, we’re all so busy nowadays trying to cope with the demands of work and home, that fun is often the first casualty of our full-on lives. We lose the joy of play. And yet, when we’re children, fun is a such a huge part of what we do and where most of our best learning happens.

George Bernard Shaw was right: it’s a sad fact that as we grow up, we often lose the ability to play. Our modern-day idea of relaxation and recuperation is to watch TV, play a computer game, read a book, go to the gym or go out to dinner. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of these, but they’re not really play.

 

Play isn’t just essential for children; it’s essential for adults too

Doing playful activities that have no point beyond pure fun and enjoyment is a great way to forget about work and promote your mental and physical wellbeing. It reduces stress, increases cross brain connectivity and capacity for divergent thinking plus when we play with others increases human bonding. It also expands our capacity to retain information when learning.

Whatever else we do, we’d benefit by incorporating more play into our personal lives. And that doesn’t mean playing on an electronic device on your own!

 

Work to play or play to work?

But let’s get back to the question of play at work.

Big companies like Google have recognised that there’s a link between play and productivity. When all’s said and done, it’s not the number of hours that you work that counts, it’s the quality of the work you produce. We tend to produce better quality work when we feel well and have regular breaks that ultimately re-energise us. What would you think if you could spend your breaks playing table tennis, table-top football or other games? What would you think if you could play, whenever you felt the need to boost your energy?

 

 

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If you’re from a more traditional work background you might think this would encourage people to be distracted and not take work seriously. In short, it’s a waste of time and inappropriate in the workplace, right? We tend to make the assumption that work and play are mutually exclusive.

And yet, what if they aren’t?

What if combining play at work is a win-win combination?

 

The psychologist Stuart Brown has written extensively on the subject of play. He compares it to oxygen and says that “it’s all around us; yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” Given that statement, it’s unsurprising that he advocates the benefits of play at both work and at home. And the benefits of allowing people to have some fun at work are many.

Aside from boosting productivity, it can help with problem-solving because, as stated earlier it encourages divergent thinking which enhances creativity. Taking time out from a project or piece of work that’s stalled to get out and play is an excellent way to engage your whole brain and remove any psychological barriers to idea generation. By thinking and seeing things differently, it can make it easier to come up with solutions to the sticking point. And it re-energises you to give the project the final push to see it over the line.

Other benefits of playing at work include:

1. Stress reduction through release of endorphins which promote a sense of wellbeing

2. Increased energy and burnout prevention

3. Increased innovation through stimulating the imagination

4. Better relationships and teamwork through improved communication, cooperation and interpersonal skills

5. Higher levels of empathy, trust and rapport

6. Improved learning by learning in a fun, engaging way

7. Improved brain and memory function

8. Reduction in negative thoughts and behaviours

9. A friendlier work atmosphere and a reduction in workplace loneliness

10. Greater levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction

11. Reduced absenteeism and a reduction in grievances and conflict

12. A greater sense of competence and improved profits.

 

It’s playtime!

Nevertheless, we need to be wary of blind imitation. The play environment in your company needs to be right for it’s culture, so looking at what the Googles of the world do and trying to emulate it, won’t necessarily work for you.

Play at work isn’t really about buying table tennis tables or board games – that type of play excludes a great many preferences and personality types. Instead it’s about developing a culture and mentality where play is encouraged as an aid to creativity, productivity and employee engagement. It’s about giving people permission to not have to be in serious work mode the whole day.

This can be a difficult concept for some employers to get their heads around, given the traditional model of work we still cling on to, particularly when the pressure is on. Yet when you consider the multiple benefits, it’s one that more workplaces would benefit from adopting. Plus, when the pressure IS on, it can be the perfect way to let off some steam!

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If you’re lucky enough to work in a company that is open to the concept of play or you’re the boss, here are some things you can do to make work a more engaging and fun experience for everyone:

1. Incorporate games and other activities into training courses and workshops.

2 .Encourage employees to think more creatively by keeping puzzles in the conference room.

3. Provide opportunities for social interaction amongst your employees in and out of work. Don’t just think pub. Think opportunities for physical exercise, quizzes, games and other types of play.

4. Encourage people to take breaks from their desks to take part in a fun activity that take their minds off work completely. Make clear that this is acceptable and not something to feel guilty about.

5. Change things up a bit at team meetings by incorporating some more playful activities, e.g. as icebreakers or energisers.

6. Use playful ways to boost creativity, e.g. let people let their imaginations run free.

7. Every so often have some planned downtime, to have fun – just like playtime at school.

If your company doesn’t want to embrace play, don’t worry. That shouldn’t stop you from bringing a bit of fun into the workplace. During your breaks you can play games, do puzzles, or tell jokes with your co-workers.

If you’d like to know more about how to reap the benefits of adopting a more playful culture, then jump into my inbox with a message here