In our busy, fast-paced society, we run the risk of blowing off play as mere "child's play." There's just so much to do, we say.
When important priorities need tending in the workplace, pressing pause to play a game or joke around with a coworker may seem like the very last thing you should be doing. The reality is that it may be one of the very best things you can do.
Play and productivity may sound like paradoxical terms, but research shows play can actually increase productivity, and leaders can leverage it for cultural and professional development.
Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play and founder of The National Institute for Play, claims "the opposite of play is not work—it is depression…life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization." He defines play as "something done for its own sake. It's voluntary, it's pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome."
Whether at work or at home, the benefits of play are limitless for our well-being. Here's a closer look at some of its primary advantages in the workplace:
Engages employees. Although play includes more than just fun, fun is always part of play. At Fierce, "have fun" is one of our company values. Our culture committee and individual teams come up with creative activities for the whole company to look forward to throughout the year, including quarterly events. Some of our fun times have included a rainy-day scavenger hunt, costume contests, a cook-off, holiday parties, kayaking, and after-work sports events. Fun and play help dilute any day-to-day monotony and provide an opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level. And that's engaging!
Relieves stress. Play gets the mind thinking in a different way and releases tension. Playing a game is like pressing a reset button and stimulates creative, innovative thinking.
Helps prioritize what's important. Pressing pause allows us to take a breather and reconnect with "being" so that we can remember why we are "doing," and feel connected to ourselves and others while doing it. When we're able to connect, it helps us prioritize and approach our tasks with a perspective of we rather than just me.
Play also builds relationships, strengthens connections, and unites teams. Unity between employees and leadership within an organization bleeds into all areas of business, including the client/customer experience.
Aside from establishing a proactive culture committee…what are some other ways to play?
Virtual banter. Sending funny emails or memes to brighten someone's day can go a long way in relationship building. In the chaos of a busy day, sometimes it's the small things that give us an extra boost of energy to keep at it and remind us why we do what we do.
Brain breaks. Although brain breaks or "downtime" may not be a direct form of play, many of the same benefits apply. Downtime might entail anything from creating whitespace, texting a friend, reading an entertaining article, or taking a short walk. When our mind has an opportunity to take a break, creative ideas are more likely to come to us. According to an article from Scientific American which includes a large bank of research related to downtime, "Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime."
Games. Games provide an opportunity for friendly competition and give the mind a chance to function in a different and challenging way. Games can be work-related (such as sales competitions) or recreational such as cornhole, video games, ping pong, or even collaborative crossword puzzles, a recent break room favorite here at Fierce.
Chit chats. We can get to know our colleagues better when we have conversations unrelated to work. One of the best ways to "team build" is to get to know your colleagues on a personal level. Knowing each other personally helps us move from working as a lone wolf to working together as a pack.
Anything that shakes up your routine. What could make today different than yesterday? It might be taking a different route to work, taking a risk, approaching a project in a new way, or simply sitting at a different desk. Changing our environment in small ways can change our outlook in big ways.
It's not just beneficial to play—we need play, even in adulthood. But how do we make sure it doesn't go too far? After all, not much would get done if we just played our days away. Here's a leadership tip for establishing healthy play parameters for yourself and your team: base your expectations of employees on their ability to meet goals and objectives.
As a leader who is held accountable and holds others accountable, you may be skeptical about play if you feel irked or even worried when you notice employees goofing around or seemingly "off-task." In any business, the bottom line, timelines, and goals should be collaboratively decided upon and communicated so that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations. Each person has a different method for getting things done—some work faster than others, some like to take more frequent breaks, and some require more playtime throughout the day to keep spirits up. And as far as how we play, Brown says it is "as unique to an individual as a fingerprint."
As long as expectations are clear and goals are being met, there's plenty of wiggle room for how we arrange the minutes in our day.
When it comes to integrating playtime into the work day, how would you rate your organization? Chances are, there's an opportunity to add play in ways that could bring its advantages to your workplace. Have a personal vision conversation with people central to the success of the company and its culture. Have people bring their passions to the workplace and talk about what makes them tick. Be willing to open up with others and share your personal life.
At this very moment, consider playing a game or goofing around, and encourage others to do the same. Aside from the perks of business return, it just makes life and work a lot more enjoyable.
Play is just one way to improve your company culture. Check out our whitepaper "Six Key Trends that Increase Employee Productivity and Engagement" for more insights. Free download available here.