Top 5 reasons we should play more at work

No play at work!!

Jane works in HR in a large Danish organization where I was giving a speech about happiness at work. I talked to her in preparation for the speech to learn about their situation and challenges, and she told me the she and some co-workers wanted to do something fun for Halloween a few years back, so they carved pumpkins and put up decorations in hallways, meeting rooms, and offices.

The reaction from some co-workers was immediately dismissive and they were told in no uncertain terms that “this is a workplace, not a kindergarten.” They have not since attempted anything like that.

Pretty surprising considering Denmark was named the happiest country in the world in 2011 by a UN backed survey, right?

To most people, work and play are mutually exclusive. Work is serious, play is frivolous. Work is something you have to do, play is something you want to do. Work is hard, play is fun.

But does it really have to be that way? What would happen if we played more at work?

A while back, I asked the readers of this blog how they play at work and here are just a few examples.

Three great ways to play at work

How about introducing play into brainstorming:

When brainstorming for new ideas we wanted to exclude critical thinking and encourage divergent thinking. Rather than having a facilitator policing the workshops we introduced water pistols. Any mistimed critical thinking led to a soaking.

The pistols did not however become a distraction, they raised the energy levels massively and resulted in great, off the wall, ideas being proposed.

Even the house “Mr Negative” could not resist and started to come up with great ideas….after shooting himself several times as he realised that he was being negative before ideas had properly emerged.

Why not simply play a game on break time:

On Fridays, it’s not unusual for a game of darts to break out. We have a dart board in our office and it serves as a great way to take a break (a game usually lasts less than half an hour), build a little camaraderie, and get our minds off of work a bit. I have found that it’s a great team building activity and it actually makes work time more effective and productive.

Oh, and it’s fun, too.

One company even uses play in hiring:

Where I work, we do our best to weed out the unhappy and cynical employees before they even get hired.

After each candidate goes through his/her well-rehearsed and pre-meditated interviews with HR and management, the entire engineering team (it’s a small company) comes into the room, closes the door, and starts a game of Jenga like it’s no big deal. Meanwhile, we strike up a casual conversation with the candidate and insist he or she play with us.

Without fail, the candidates true colors are almost immediately revealed. Candidate scoffs at the idea of playing a game in an interview? Obviously too uptight for our group and not capable of handling rapidly changing situations. Focusing on Jenga also takes the candidate’s mind off of all of the pre-meditated answers and pages of ‘interview tips’ articles that we’ve all read at one point or another.

Works every time. We end up with engineers who are laid back and easygoing, but who know their stuff, and can think on their feet.

I have heard countless other great examples of workplaces making themselves more like playgrounds – and this is also good for business. Here are the top 5 reasons why it’s a good idea to mix work and play.

1: You relax and de-stress

A play-break is a great way to laugh and focus on something besides work, emails, meetings, deadlines and clients. That break gives us a chance to relax during an otherwise busy work day and makes us less stressed.

2: We build relationships

In play you can be yourself and so can your co-workers – as in the Jenga-hiring-game above that brought out an applicant’s true self. Playing, especially together is a great way to build better relationships with your co-workers.

3: It broadens your mind

Play stretches the mind and makes us more creative. More and better ideas come to you when you’re in a playful state of mind than when you’re being serious and professional.

4: We take work less seriously

To many people, work is life and death, forever locked in a bloodthirsty, winner-take-all battle to end. No surprise that this attitude tends to make people cramp up mentally. Introducing play in the workplace gives us a break from this mentality and a chance to take ourselves less seriously.

5: We become happier at work

But most of all, playing at work would serve to make a workplace happier – and we know from many studies, that a happy workplace is a profitable one!

The upshot

There is a great case to be made for playing way more at work. And what’s more, introducing play can be fun and easy. It’s not without its challenges, and as we saw from the example above, some workplaces have an anti-play brigade that insists on keeping any and all aspects of fun and playfulness far away from the workplace.

Well nuts to them, I say – let’s do it anyway! I suggest we make the new battle cry in the workplace ”Wanna play?”

Your take

How do you play at work? Does your workplace even allow that kind of thing? What would happen if you made work a little more like play? Write a comment, I’d love to hear your take.

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9 thoughts on “Top 5 reasons we should play more at work”

  1. “the entire engineering team comes into the room, closes the door, and starts a game of Jenga … and insist he or she play with us”

    Wow. Pity the poor introvert, who dreads these kinds of social situations. Not everyone’s idea of ‘fun’ is the same.

  2. Playing can activate our right half of the brain, the half where intuition and creativity resides. Step away from your analysis and linear thinking and go toss a frisbee for 20 minutes. You will probably have gained more insight into whatever problem was bugging you than in the 2 hours otherwise spent working on it from 8 to 10 pm.

  3. Pingback: Friday Woohoo
  4. As much as my personality loves the idea of introducing play at work, I agree with the first comment made. We need to be careful we aren’t setting certain personalities up for failure when in fact it

  5. After re-reading this post (i bookmarked it and wrote another blog on it), i’m left with a very big question mark.

    I’m very convinced work should be fun and can be fun. I believe we’re more productive if we feel at home, comfortable or relaxed in our job and especially when we have fun in what we do. I’m really happy Alexander took up the crusade to make work as fun as possible (and i even have some plan to get him to the Netherlands, even if it’s just to shake hands).

    But i’m wondering how the whole situation of work being serious, being not-fun, came to be. Does it have to do with industrialisation, when people were forced out of agriculture into the factories? In this new environment, i imagine, play could be disastrous, since every irregularity could cost time and money. But even back then, not everybody was working in a factory. There were loads of other jobs. And i find it really hard to imagine that this single, allthough massive, movement was so powerful that it could wipe fun out of work.

    On the other hand, it’s also possible ‘work’ wasn’t a fun thing even way farther back in history, we didn’t have fun chasing mammoths, building piramids, etc. And just now, when more possibilities open up for more people, work is more fun. Maybe work back then couldn’t be fun? And people are only more productive when having fun ‘at creative and knowledge-worker’ jobs’ and not in normal production work? But then other blogposts on this blog show enough production locations which are capable of having fun.

    Anyhow, keep up the blogging! I enjoy every read, thank you.

  6. Answer to Chris’ questions about the lack of fun at work:

    Our relationship to work heralds from both the old Greeks who stated that it was for slaves – free men spent their time governing – and from the Bible where Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise with words to the end of work being a hard, sweaty engagement.

    Culturally the concept of Work is still seen in this light many places on earth, where in some cultures it is more defined as a way to contribute to society (f.ex. in the Netherlands) or a place for social interchange. Interestingly enough, from the very area to which Adam was expelled, agriculture, there is today many who take great pride and purpose from being able to feed their family in the most literal sense of the word. In contrast, today many types of work are so specialized that the people involved have little idea how they contribute to society.
    Today, there is an increased awareness that having a purpose that go way beyond return to the shareholders makes a difference to people involved with any type of work. It really does make a difference if your job is “to do maintenance on a piece of machinery” or “to assure production of life saving medications.” It may be the exact same activity, though.

    I agree that building pyramids or the Great Wall of China has not been fun. What we often forget is that for the main part of human history, “others” have been objectified to justify why they could be held as slaves and killed at will. That point of view was questioned around 2000 years ago and again during the Enlightenment. It is evidently an issue we need to keep addressing when factories fall down in Pakistan and Chinese factories need suicide nets.

  7. Charlotte, Hi!

    Thank you for your reply. I recently finished reading the bible, but never made the connection to our view at work. Thank you for your comment – it really brought a light to my understanding (even though it might sound stupid since i didn’t think of both reasons before) of the combination of work and fun.

    Then again, this is the more reason to me to admire Alexander for his mission – and motivates me to help him. What if we take the perspective that work should be fun and spread it? Indeed, we might not be able to make all work fun. But there is a difference between a perfect world and one that could be better – and will be better. The first we might not achieve, the second we should at least attempt to achieve.

    In the same line my attention was drown (just this day) to Indian farmer suicides. I hope step by step we will be able to help others, here and there.

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