Play at Work: Incorporating Fun on the Job

By: Caroline Dowd-Higgins

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For many of us, work is often characterized as “serious,” “nose-to-the-grindstone,” “no-nonsense” and “down to business.” There’s this idea that work is work and play is…well…for after work.

In an INC column, Brendan Boyle, a partner at the design firm, IDEO, says play in the workplace has a “PR problem.” “Some think of play as frivolous — a distraction, or worse, a waste of time,” Boyle explains. He suggests the opposite of play isn’t work, but rather boredom, and that work actually benefits from an injection of play in the mix.

Studies have shown that ​work environments offering more fun and play are highly beneficial to employees. In a Washington Post article, Lynn Barnett, a professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says play in the workplace…

  • Enhances learning,
  • Speeds up productivity,
  • Increases job satisfaction

Barnett also notes that a spirit of playfulness can be a great antidote to stress and the pressures of the job as well. “Highly playful adults feel the same stressors as anyone else,” Barnett says. “But they appear to experience and react to them differently — allowing stressors to roll off more easily than those who are less playful.”

More and more workplaces are recognizing the value of incorporating fun and play into their cultures. Whether it’s offering improv or dance classes on site, or croquet breaks on the rooftop — many companies are making a concerted effort to weave more creativity and fun into daily work life wherever possible. Tech and design firms like Google, Zynga, IDEO and White Mountain have been leading the way in this regard with offices that give Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory a run for its money. Basketball courts, playground-style tube slides, and unconventional meeting spaces are commonplace at these and other companies incorporating a spirit of play.

While your workplace may not offer Ping-Pong, or meeting spaces in hot air balloon baskets, you can incorporate more play into your workday with something as simple as a few fun desk toys. An Etch-A-Sketch, Slinky, or Rubik’s Cube could be just the thing to bring more fun into your work world.

There’s a George Bernard Shaw quote I love that says, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I encourage you to bring a spirit of play into your workplace however/ whenever you can. It can go a long way in bringing more joy to you and your workmates on the job.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book “This Is Not the Career I Ordered” now in the 2nd edition and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to: Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life.

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