Play at work can positively affect the workplace environment and team cohesion. Giving employees an opportunity to embrace fun can foster creativity and help people solve complex challenges. But, in order to fully leverage the advantages of play at work, you’ll need to avoid some of the stumbling blocks addressed in this article.
This series has already shared support for play at work noting that these initiatives:
- Boost engagement
- Support mental health
- Encourage creativity
- Help team building and culture creation
But it would be irresponsible to simply share ways to incorporate play and not talk also about challenges you might encounter. Your organization might have the best of intentions when it brings play to work, but like all other organizational changes it needs to be done with care.
1. Not one size fits all
“I tend to think of play as a state of being,” says Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play. “Play is individual, and play patterns that work for one person may not work for another.”
When introducing play into the workplace, recognize that it’s not going to be one size fits all. Different factors drive positive emotions for different people. Fun is personal, and can be shaped by gender and age (more on that next).
That’s why it’s important to provide a range of fun outlets. Give teams permission to initiate play and provide a whole spectrum of opportunities so employees can find what works for them.
Tip: In BrightHR’s It Pays to Play report, researchers found a few activities popular across genders:
- Office parties/nights out (21% for each gender)
- A lottery syndicate (16% males & 15% females)
- Board games (9% for each gender)
- Karaoke (6% males & 9% females)
- Nerf gun wars (8% males & 5% females)
- A work choir (5% males & 6% females)
2. Age may matter
Generational identity can also influence how individuals view play at work. Some older workers may have more difficulty relaxing into fun, seeing it as childish. The older cohort is already juggling children, mortgages, and more. Socializing instead of working may be harder for them to see as a positive. Their views of work could make it more difficult to connect with younger workers who see play as more natural.
Tip: Play in the workplace should be linked to organizational culture, as a natural outgrowth. Select fun activities or events that employees can relate to the work they do.
3. Competition can backfire
Play at work is going to appeal to those who are competitive. Yet, competitiveness can have negative implications on staff morale and be unhealthy in the workplace. Be wary of enforcing so-called fun activities that:
- Create a battle of egos
- Lead to a formation of unhealthy alliances
- Prompt information hoarding
- Undermine team work
Tip: Avoid unhealthy competition by ensuring play that is geared towards team growth rather than promoting an individual’s ego.
4. Forced fun is no fun
In one researcher’s paper on The Fun Paradox survey respondents said it was difficult to enjoy “managed fun.” One person even left his job to avoid the “constant pressure to be present and participating in ‘managed fun’ events.”
When play feels scheduled or overly planned, it becomes one more task on a to-do list. That’s not fun. As Playficient puts it, “the cult of compulsory happiness” can damage the cultural gains you seek.
Tip: As with other employee engagement efforts, giving individuals choice about play at work empowers them. That’s where the fun is found.
5. Play can distract
In our article on advantages of play, the idea of giving employees a mental break was seen as a positive. Yet, research into play at work notes that “some short-term positives of play can turn into long-term negatives.” For example, someone may enjoy the fun of being in the moment and interacting with team mates in a fun way. Yet, they may struggle to return their focus to work afterwards.
People could also feel guilty about their lost productivity and feel stressed about what they may have missed while doing the play activity.
Tip: Help employees manage long-term concerns about fun by ensuring managers support people in play and provide ways to balance both work and fun without feeling pressured to choose one or the other.
Beyond all work and no play
Play at work can create a more relaxed and collaborative environment. This can improve productivity, increase engagement, and drive the bottom line. Yet, take advantage of this series’ suggestions for how to incorporate play at work with care. Just throwing fun at some employees could work against your business objectives.
Better understanding of your employees can help you select effective strategies for including play at work. Find out what your people are thinking with our employee survey tools.