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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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    Published on October 8, 2019

    How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

    How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

    The late writer William S. Burroughs once said that “When you stop growing, you start dying.” It might have a morbid undertone, but it’s one hundred percent true in terms of one’s career.

    The days of finding a job with one company that you can stick with for 30 years, and simply relax as you move up its company escalator are few and far between in today’s world. This isn’t necessarily bad news. On the contrary, it means that you’re the one in charge of shaping your career advancement.

    By putting these principles and behaviors into practice, you’ll begin to see how to advance your career quickly. Ready? Let’s get started…

    1. Define What Success Is for You

    There’s no right or wrong definition of what success in your career looks like. The important thing is to figure out what success looks like for YOU. It might, and probably will, change along the way, but if you don’t have some sort of milestone on the horizon, then you won’t know which direction to go in.

    Think about success in your career in terms of one year, five years, and 10 years. Once you have that, it’s time to lace up your boots and get to work.

    2. Learn How to Develop and Follow a Plan

    Nobody just stumbles upon success accidentally. Sure, they may stumble upon breakthroughs or new methods accidentally, but all success stories have one thing in common — a plan.

    Establish a timeline for the things that you want to achieve in your career in the next year, five years, 10 years, and so on. Consider the skills that you’ll need to learn to make these things happen and work on acquiring them.

    3. Surround Yourself With Those Better Than You

    It’s a rule of thumb among musicians that if you want to get better, then you need to get out of the bedroom and play with people who are better than you.

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    By surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and where you want to be, you’ll not only see how these people climbed to where they are in their respective fields, but you’ll learn from them and naturally want to push yourself to be better in your own job as well.

    4. Seek Out a Mentor(s)

    A mentor will not only be able to help you refine and reach your career goals, but will be invaluable in landing promotions and finding unadvertised job openings.

    One unique approach is to work on fostering a relationship with a mentor both within and outside of your company. This will help in giving you different perspectives as you rise up through the ranks in your company and career overall.

    5. Stop Wasting Your Mornings

    You may not think you’re a morning person, but if you can learn to be one, you’ll thank yourself 10 years down the road.

    Prepare a to-do list of tasks that you want to accomplish the day before and work on knocking them out for at least one hour before you respond to morning emails. The problem with responding to emails first, is you’re giving your attention to somebody else’s agenda, instead of plotting your own course for the day.

    6. Arrange or Attend a Networking Party

    If you’re attending networking events simply because you might get a few free drinks, you’re doing them wrong. These events are great for meeting new people and forming relationships. Your goal shouldn’t be to get hired by the end of the night, but to simply make a good impression by being friendly and authentic. So what’s next?

    Reach out a few days later via email or on social media to follow up and connect!

    7. Pick Up Some New Skills

    Nobody wants to be the old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. To move up in your career, you’re going to likely need to pick up new skills along the way. Maybe your company offers on-the-job training or you have the option of taking online classes at night.

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    By learning new skills, you’ll not only be able to expand upon what you can already do, but you’ll make yourself more valuable to your employer and future employers.

    8. Exploit the Benefits Already at Your Disposal

    Remember what we just said about the possibility of your company providing on-the-job training? Take advantage of these sorts of benefits!

    If you’re working for a company that allows you to job shadow other employees or has company mixers, you should attend these. They not only allow you to develop your skills within the company, but show seasoned executives within your field that you’re interested in more than just clocking in for a paycheck.

    9. Make Yourself Indispensable

    Good help is hard to find and employers want to retain outstanding employees. If you can learn to make yourself indispensable to your company, you’ll not only communicate that you’re successful, but will have a lot more job security. What’s this entail though?

    It’s actually not all that difficult. By being reliable, adapting to new challenges, and holding your own work and performance to a high standard, you’ll stand out among your peers and others will take notice. Easy enough, right?

    10. Get Off the Fence

    People who advance in their careers are those who don’t shy away from voicing their opinion and stand up with authority when the opportunity arises.

    If a problem arises in your company and you think you might have a solution or are willing to work to find one, then let others know. Employers value and promote problem solvers. Start off with something small and work your way up towards tackling more difficult tasks and projects.

    11. Don’t Wait for More Responsibility, Ask for It

    If you want more responsibility in your job, then be open about it with your manager. Your manager may be so busy with their own work that they weren’t aware you were looking for more challenges.

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    Just make sure you can handle it and that you already show strong performance in your current duties. And if your manager doesn’t seem supportive about offering you more responsibility, well, then it could be time to look for new employment.

    12. Stop Wasting Time on What You Don’t Want

    If your career goals start with “I should do this…” there could be a problem. This kind of language in referring to goals can doom them to failure because the want isn’t there.

    Consider using the RUMBA method (Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed) when setting your goals. That “agreed” part should really be “want.” By going after career goals that you actually want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

    13. Seek Out Feedback and Apply It

    Simply doing your job might not always push you up in your career advancement. Too often, employees just assume that their bosses will notice their performance strides and reach out when the time is right to advance.

    Don’t be afraid to regularly seek out feedback and ask for constructive criticism. It not only shows that you value your manager’s opinion but demonstrates that you care about your job and want to become better in your chosen field.

    14. Pick Your Bosses Wisely

    Advancing in your career can move a lot quicker if you’re working for the right people. If your boss isn’t any good at their job or doesn’t value you, then moving up could become difficult.

    A great boss though, will be able to help you capitalize on your strengths and be an advocate for your success. If there aren’t any strong developers of talent in your management chain already, then look around for some and seek them out as mentors.

    15. Learn to Develop Your Sense of Timing

    The odds of asking for a promotion or raise are in your favor with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey from PayScale reporting some success. One thing to keep in mind that can make all the difference is when you ask.

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    Some corporate cultures may prefer that employees reach out about advancement during their annual review, but maybe you work for a more free-spirited startup. The best approach may be to take note of when others advance and ask about how the organization handles employee development.

    16. Work Hard and Promote Yourself

    Working hard and delivering a solid job performance are the keys to advancing in your career no matter what field you’re in. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely humble about your accomplishments either.

    Keep a record of your positive impact within the organization and let others both within your company and your field know that you’re enthusiastic about your role and work.

    17. Don’t Just Build Your Network… Cultivate It

    It’s way too easy to add new people to your LinkedIn network and then forget about them for all eternity. Rather than just collecting business cards or social media contacts, you should be cultivating relationships with the ones you already have.

    Follow up with people that you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to connect them with somebody you know in their field, or ask about a new job title they may have taken on. Doing so could be the spark that leads to a potential job referral.

    18. Join a Professional Organization

    The National Association of (insert your industry here) and other professional organizations can still offer a great wealth of advantages from networking to industry insights, and skill development.

    Even outside of professional organizations dedicated to particular job fields, civic organizations can also be fantastic for making new contacts. After all, so much about career advancement is who you know, and you never know who you’ll meet who knows somebody else who is looking for someone with your skills and experience.

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    Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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