Does it Work to Play?


It may sound like Opposite World, but more employers than ever are turning to play as a way to boost work performance. 

You may know about Google’s beach volleyball and scooters, or Twitter’s climbing wall and think playtime is only for tech companies. But more and more companies, especially small businesses, get real and profitable results by creating a “psychologically safe” environment.

Studies show that play actually boosts productivity and improves internal communication – adding to the bottom line – and not just for the tech sector. Companies from Whole Foods and IDEO, a global design and innovation company, to marketing businesses, encourage play as a way to connect to creativity.

Play connects the player to right-brain creativity. It also improves concentration, which leads to increased innovation and teamwork, which then leads to increased productivity and quality.

But what is play? Play is when you do something simply for fun without a pre-planned specific outcome. We engage in play in many ways: organized games with coworkers, ping-pong or foosball, Wii competitions, and even reading for fun and listening to music. As long as you’re deeply engaged in fun, you’re in a state of play.

Does Play Work?

You may ask if play actually “works” and whether employees feel free to engage in downtime. Multiple studies show us that the right hemisphere of the brain is linked to creativity, empathy, inventiveness and “big-picture” thinking. When we play, our creative side is stimulated.

Healthy competition results when co-workers play together. Physical play develops social and a healthier workforce while risk-taking games give you a safe place where you’re allowed to fail.

According to IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown, when employers change to a play culture, employees feel a sense of security to take creative chances in an atmosphere where they won’t be judged.

Studies link job satisfaction to productivity. It turns out that when you’re happy at work, you actually work harder. Job satisfaction rates and morale go up, especially when you can choose the activity freely. And businesses gain a revitalized workplace with less stress, health care costs, and absenteeism. A lower stress environment leads to better work/life balance.

No matter how old you are, play is essential to health and happiness. And to attract Millennials, more small businesses are giving play a chance.

What If Work is No Playground?

When management doesn’t fully embrace play or think it’s frivolous and a time waster, they send the message that it’s really not okay to play. Even when game tables and activities surround you, you don’t want to seem unproductive in that type of culture.

So, what’s the alternative of no play?

If we don’t play at work, boredom or stress sets in, especially during crunch times. Employees with deadlines need some way to relieve stress at work. One way is to turn the tasks involved in to a game.

Play breaks boundaries between co-workers and participants stop self-censoring. Best of all, play encourages a lighter work atmosphere, which reduces stress and burn out.

And when companies embrace playtime and integrate it into the corporate culture, happier, more engaged employees emerge.

Can You Play By Yourself?

If you don’t work in a place where play isn’t valued, you can access your creative side by daydreaming, placing action figures on your desk (yes, toys actually stimulates creative thinking), or taking a play break at lunch.

To bring playfulness into your life, remember what you enjoyed as a child. Your memories may result in joining a softball team or renewing your passion for photography or art.

We all play on weekends. Bring that sense of play to work and you may transform an unsatisfying or boring job into a new you at work.



Tamera Shaw is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes fiction and enjoys amateur photography. She happily shares her life with husband Ron, daughter Cate and sage cat, Sophie, who grudgingly shares her home with the newest member of our family – Nieko, our new kitten.


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