Work hard, play hard.
We all know the saying, but for most of us it’s nothing more than that—an expression rather than a motto we live by in our day-to-day lives.
It turns out, though, that there may be more to the classic idiom than we give it credit for. Forward-thinking companies are beginning to embrace the concept of playing at work, and what they’ve discovered has big implications for company culture.
It Starts When We’re Young
Scientists have long known of the benefits of play for children.
Playing contributes to a child’s cognitive abilities, building neurological connections that enable critical thinking and problem solving.
Play also helps kids discover their natural interests and talents—say, construction or art—that may develop into future career paths.
Recently some schools have capitalized on this research, bucking the trend of cutting recess and opting instead for more play for kids. This Texas elementary school started giving kids four recess breaks per day and reported stellar results: less fidgety, more focused pupils.
If playtime boasts such incredible benefits for kids, why, then, does it take such a backseat once we grow up and enter the real world?
Scientists say it shouldn’t.
Adults at Play
Both scientific research and real-life experiments have come to a similar conclusion about play for adults: it comes with significant physical and emotional benefits that employers can harness to produce happier, more productive employees.
Here’s how creativity can lead to a better company culture.
It Fosters Creativity
Any parent can tell you about that one activity that keeps their kid entertained for hours (okay, maybe one hour). Maybe it’s building with Legos or going crazy with finger paint.
Why do kids become so captivated by that specific activity? Because their brain is engaged in the process of being creative, and all other conscious thoughts go out the window.
The same thing happens when adults play.
When you’re fully engaged in a fun activity, experts say, you lose some of those psychological barriers that keep you from being creative. Even after play has ended, they say, creative thoughts flow more easily.
Creativity is a key factor in business success, allowing you to develop innovative solutions to problems and develop new ideas.
It Builds Relationships
When we play, we instinctively communicate. We talk, use our hands and body language, and laugh. Sharing these moments of positive communication fosters empathy, compassion and trust among co-workers.
Think about it: if you’ve “played” with a co-worker outside of the office, be it a game up pickup basketball or a trip to trivia night at the local bar, you’re naturally going to feel more connected with them inside the office.
Workers who feel safe and open with one another are more likely to collaborate on ideas and work out problems in a positive way rather than an argumentative one.
It Boosts Productivity
We’re all familiar with the feeling of “hitting a wall” at work. For me it usually happens around 2 p.m. when my brain starts to feel like it’s slowly turning to oatmeal.
The best way to combat that workday wall? Take a break and play.
Science has shown that brief diversions from work throughout the day—even as frequently as once per hour—boost productivity and have no negative affect on the overall amount of work we accomplish.
Workplaces can cash in on this improved productivity by building playtime into regular working hours.
How to Facilitate More Play
Alright, so the benefits of play are clear. But getting a bunch of middle-aged men in business attire to embrace the concept might not be so easy. How can companies foster a more playful environment?
Start meetings with a fun activity
Most people hate meetings. They’re physically and mentally draining.
Prep your employees for more productive meetings by starting with a play period at the very beginning.
Get Vetter has nine awesome one-minute games for employees to get the creative vibes flowing.
Encourage break time during the work day
Some of the most forward-thinking companies in the world have already embraced the idea.
Google, for example, is known for having foosball and pool tables readily available in its offices. Outdoor apparel giant Patagonia has a policy called “Let My People Go Surfing,” which encourages employees to take breaks for outdoor time to break up the 9-to-5 monotony.
Set designated play time
You can even build playtime into your office’s regularly scheduled programming.
We love this idea from one of our clients: they have a Friday social hour where employees gather for snacks and a cold beer toward the end of the workday.
Does your company encourage a culture of work mixed with play? If not, how can you incorporate more playtime into your work environment? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!
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Watch designer Tim Brown's compelling TED Talk about the relationship between creativity and play.