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How to Harness the Power of Play to Transform your Work Culture

How to Harness the Power of Play to Transform your Work Culture

Most people think of their lives as being split into two distinct parts: work and free time. But what if that distinction didn’t exist? What if going to work was so enjoyable that people actually looked forward to being there? It may sound radical but a growing number of forward-thinking businesses and organizations are trying to help their employees have more fun at work.

Happy employees work harder

The trendy startup agency with table football and pinball in the breakout zone, where hipster geeks chill amidst office dogs and beanbag chairs, may have become a modern cliché, but there is wisdom behind the nurturing of this kind of work culture. Numerous studies suggest that when people are enjoying their jobs they are more efficient. And it may be cynical, but if the only motivation driving some profit-focused companies to invest properly in the well-being of their staff is to increase productivity, then that’s better than nothing. Love ’em or hate ’em, Google has invested huge amounts into employee happiness, and profits have increased as a result.

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    A recent study carried out at the University of Warwick reveals that employee satisfaction and productivity are unquestionably linked:

    We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce.

    Andy Beresford, Managing Director of Home Leisure Direct, an award-winning U.K. games-room specialist, has witnessed a rise in the number of purchases of games such as pinball and table football by U.K. businesses. Andy is passionate about the importance of play in society as a way to increase well-being:

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    It’s something I witness regularly, a group of people begin a game of table football or table tennis, and within minutes boundaries are broken, communication flows and they are having more fun than they could have imagined. This kind of playful set-up at work really helps employees, not only to kick back and release work stress but it also improves colleagues’ relationships and connectivity.

    The dark cult of presenteeism

    The 9-to-5 culture doesn’t really exist anymore. Little by little the boundaries that protect our leisure time are being eroded. From C-suite to junior intern, we see individuals sitting at desks in lit office blocks long past sunset, and many are taking work home on the weekend, too. But this kind of work-life imbalance has a sting in the tail for industry. People are becoming depressed and stress related illness is on the increase. According to a new report by King’s College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science, depression now costs European workplaces the equivalent of $120 billion a year. The greatest economic loss is through absenteeism and lost productivity. In her book ‘Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time’ Brigid Schulte explores how we have forgotten to play because we put too much onus on being productive. It is the work ethic gone crazily off-kilter, with a new and dangerous status attached to productivity. But, contrary to common perceptions, this kind of obsession with “presenteeism” does not result in increased productivity. As Helen Lewis insists in this Guardian article:

    Research shows most people can only do eight hours of quality work a day. After that, they are just desk meat, surreptitiously playing Solitaire in a browser window or daydreaming about dinner.

    But if we can’t go back to the days of being home for supper at 5.30 p.m., what businesses can do is to create leisure time in the working day, by bringing leisure into the work space and encouraging employees to break up their day with allocated periods of creativity, communication, and free play with colleagues.

    Play therapy

    Flow” is the psychological state of being in which a person is stimulated, alert, present, and fully immersed in nothing but the task at hand. In this state, learning and creativity are optimum, time seems to fly, and a person feels totally satisfied. This is the state that is induced in children and adults by playful activity. Engaged in a task where process and pleasure override product and pressure, a person loses a sense of self, or ego, and worry and anxiety are reduced. In other words, play is therapy.

    The benefits of play

    Whether it’s a game of netball or table football, a video game, or a creative activity such as writing or painting, people emerge from this state of flow feeling refreshed and enlivened, and often acquire new insights and cognitive understandings. Play has the potential to make us:

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    1. Less stressed. Play triggers the release of endorphins and helps people to cope better with stress and anxiety. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help reduce isolation and depression.
    2. Brainier and more creative. Play challenges the brain and can help prevent memory problems by keeping the brain exercised and stimulated. Learning is accelerated and improved when a task is turned into a game. Play stimulates the imagination and increases problem-solving capacity.
    3. Closer to each other. Shared play brings people closer together, encourages bonding, and helps to resolve conflict. In new relationships, play can be an effective tool for overcoming any awkwardness. Studies show that employees who have friends at work are much happier, and retention rates increase.

    So, if play can transform the things we don’t always enjoy (exercise, work, study) into stimulating, life-enhancing activities, how can play be introduced in the workplace?

    1. Organised fun. It may not be enough to adorn a communal space with a sofa, an office dog, and a pinball machine. Employees need to be given permission to play; it has to be woven into the work culture by good leadership. Designated breaks and organized tournaments and gaming events will encourage people to get involved, and to feel safe enough to play. Most of us are not used to this at work and it may take a bit of practice to inject a sense of playfulness into the workday.
    2. Work events. It is shared experience that bonds people to one another, and studies show that this is increased with laughter and mirth. Throw parties, take the firm ice-skating, play pin the tail on the donkey (who looks like the boss) at Christmas, enjoy a wine tasting, a portrait-painting workshop—anything that will encourage co-workers to get to know each other, let their hair down, and have a laugh.
    3. Make meetings fun. In between the regular meetings, pencil a few meetings in the work calendar where the focus is purely creative and communicative. Introducing mind maps and brainstorming can encourage right-brain activity. Insight and innovation often stem from creativity and daydreaming, and too much pressure and expectation can thwart human potential.

    Towards a new work model

    Appreciative Inquiry, initiated by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, a model for positive and sustainable change within organizations. One of its core principles sums up perfectly the concepts that might drive a new human-centred workplace.

    The positive principle proposes that momentum and sustainable change requires positive affect and social bonding. Sentiments like hope, excitement, inspiration, camaraderie and joy increase creativity, openness to new ideas and people, and cognitive flexibility.

    Instead of dreaming of escape, people might actively choose to spend time in a workplace where play, creativity, social connection, reward, and a sense of fun are woven into the culture.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

    You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

    Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

    “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

    It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

    Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

    As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

    As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

    Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

    Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

    1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

    When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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    Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

    2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

    Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

    But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

    If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

    Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

    3. Go to All Office Networking Events

    Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

    If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

    Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

    Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

    The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

    Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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    4. Show Initiative

    Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

    Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

    Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

    5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

    Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

    Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

    6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

    A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

    Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

    Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

    A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

    Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

    Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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    These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

    Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

    7. Find a Mentor

    With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

    Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

    Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

    Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

    8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

    After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

    What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

    Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

    Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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    You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

    9. Set Your Professional Bar High

    Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

    Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

    Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

    Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

    The Bottom Line

    Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

    “Half of life is showing up.”

    The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

    Remember, your career is your business!

    More About Continuous Growth

    Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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