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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 April 17, 2019

    10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

    10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

    What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

    Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

    They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

    1. Communication Skills

    Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

    To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

    Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

    Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

    After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

    2. Flexibility

    Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

    Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

    Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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    Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

    3. Being a Team Player

    Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

    What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

    This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

    Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

    4. Positive Mental Attitude

    There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

    Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

    Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

    It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

    Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

    5. A Strong Work Ethic

    People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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    If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

    Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

    • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
    • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
    • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
    • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

    For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

    6. Public Speaking

    Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

    Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

    If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

    For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

    Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

    7. Integrity

    From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

    • Always doing what you say you will do
    • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

    …even when no one is around to check up on you.

    There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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    Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

    8. Managing Your Time

    Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

    A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

    Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

    Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

    These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

    9. Assertiveness

    In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

    • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
    • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
    • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
    • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

    Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

    How do you use this information for yourself?

    It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

    Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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    How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

    10. Creative Thinking

    LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

    Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

    How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

    Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

    These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

    You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

    What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

    Final Thoughts

    The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

    So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

    The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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    Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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