We all know that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” But, for centuries there have been businesses that don’t much care if Jack is dull, so long as he gets his work done and profit is made. Now, though, there is greater awareness of the power of play at work. Jack (or Jill, for that matter) doesn’t need to be dull any longer!
There are those that will trace the “work is work” mentality back to the Puritans and their diligent work ethic. Protestants came to the Americas and emphasized the importance of hard work, discipline, frugality. These were not the type of people who were going to have virtual happy hours or play trivia together on Slack.
Yet today, the power of play at work is better understood by businesses. This series will discuss the benefits of incorporating play at work, offer practical examples of how to do so, and conclude with challenges and cautions. First, let’s turn to the research on why play is so important at work.
What is play at work?
We’re not talking about building a sandbox or giving work colleagues finger paints (at least not yet, that may be in part two… just wait for it!). Generally, play among children and adults is different. Of course, we can count on social scientists somewhere to have defined exactly how.
- It’s a behavior or activity carried out with the goal of amusement and fun
- It involves an enthusiastic and in-the-moment attitude or approach
- It’s highly interactive among play partners or with the activity itself
While having a three-pronged definition of play may take the fun out of it for some people, if your business is going to consciously work to incorporate adult play at work, it helps to have a clear framework to go about it!
Why is play at work important?
Play at work has many benefits for employees, teams, and their organizations. As BrightHR concludes in its It Pays to Play report, “the idea of ‘fun’ and ‘play’ at work is becoming increasingly important to workers who want to be creative, committed and motivated.” There are benefits to the bottom line, but this section will look at the other ways in which play at work makes a difference to the business overall.
1. Greater engagement
Injecting a sense of play into work makes the job more enjoyable. No wonder 79% of respondents in the It Pays to Play survey rated “fun at work as very/moderately important.” Despite concerns that it could take people away from their responsibilities, the opposite is true. The mental and physical refresh that comes from play at work can actually boost productivity levels.
Also, according to the Association for Psychological Science, “studies suggest that when a participant receives a task [that is] presented playfully, they are more involved and spend more time on the task.”
Play at work is also positively associated with job satisfaction and a greater commitment to work. In this Great Resignation era, in which organizations are experiencing increased employee turnover, anything that helps engage and retain employees should be prioritized.
2. Improved mental health
Play at work creates a more positive work culture, which can help to cut stress levels. That’s important since “60 to 80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress,” and workplace stress “leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover.”
Play at work is also linked with reduced burnout in individual workers. Play gives people a mental break, and even gets them get up and moving physically. This can release endorphins, which make people feel better and more energized. Ultimately, that means fewer sick days and reduced health costs for the organization.
Some 62% of respondents in the BrightHR survey agreed “that a good belly laugh at work would definitely make their work life better.”
3. Encourages creativity
Play at work can prompt adults to be more adaptable and inventive. When your organization encourages some elements of play into the workday, you create a culture that is more flexible. People that play together are more likely to see each other as being on the same team. This can truly benefit organization-wide decision making.
Considering that the future of work requires individuals to develop problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, fun and play are clearly essential elements. As Ryan Carson, the co-founder of Treehouse suggested in Forbes, the creativity of play can “stimulate our imagination, helping us adapt and solve problems better and quicker.”
4. Builds teams
Unless everyone in your office is an insane competitor who is in it for the win, play benefits teams of workers, too. Play at work improves an individual’s self confidence and their willingness to speak up in teams. The have to practice verbal communication, collaboration, and other important professional skills with one another while enjoying some fun activities at work.
Play at work is also connected with a friendlier work atmosphere and increased bonding and social interaction. People are more likely to trust one another. Plus, there is a decreased sense of hierarchy among employees that are able to play together at work.
Is your business embracing play?
Adding an element of fun to the work day can offer plenty of advantages to employees, teams, and organizations. The next article in this series will share examples of incorporating play at work. And we’ll also share some things to avoid, too. In the meantime, if you want to gauge how playful your employees think your work environment is today, use a simple pulse survey.