The Value of Play in the Workplace

7 mins read

This article covers what play is, why it is important, and how it can be implemented in the workplace.

Defining “Play”

We’ve all spent time at work daydreaming, but we’re quick to squash it. After all, we’re supposed to be efficient, not distracted, right? We should be focused on finances and statistics, not fun and Star Wars!

Or is it that simple? Activities involving imagination, art, games, comedy, and books are all finding their way into the workplace.1 Although it’s easy to recognize these as examples of play, there’s no agreed-upon definition for “play.” Dr. Peter Gray, however, has identified 5 core characteristics of “play” within the wide variety of definitions:2

    1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed
    2. Play is intrinsically motivated – meaning are more values than ends
    3. Play is guided by mental rules, but the rules leave room for creativity
    4. Play is imaginative
    5. Play is conducted in an alert, active, but relatively non-stressed frame of mind

It’s worth taking a minute here to notice that each of these 5 characteristics includes a word or phrase that’s relevant to an individual’s psychology (i.e., “self-chosen,” “intrinsically motivated,” “mental,” “imaginative,” and “frame of mind”). Play, then, is a way of evaluating the world that one navigates and has a particular quality to it, as play requires approaching the world with intention and a sense of curiosity.

Why Play Is Important in the Workplace

Dr. Stuart Brown, who has a background in general and internal medicine, psychiatry, and clinical research, left those pursuits to establish the National Institute for Play in California. The organization maintains that human play is so important that it should become a credible discipline in the scientific community.3 This vision isn’t without evidence. Among adults, play reduces stress, helps prevent memory problems, increases creativity, and improves how well we connect with others.4

All of these are relevant to employees. After a brain-break through play, Greg might become less likely to have steam coming out of his ears whenever a deadline changes. Following some fun, co-worker Joe might finally get the ball rolling on his assignments instead of staring at the ceiling and rolling around in his office chair. Heck, maybe even Sarah, their department manager, will remember to notify them of their deadlines on time.

How to Implement Play in the Workplace

Based on the material we’ve covered so far, it’s clear that play doesn’t require many resources to get started. Since play essentially starts with how you think, according to Dr. Gray, you could start with an introspective discussion about how (and whether) your employees play.

    • Some questions could include:
    • What is meaningful to me?
    • What rules do I care about?
    • In what ways am I imaginative?

You could even hand out a worksheet prior to a discussion or in lieu of one. Below we have included a template of a worksheet for your business. In sending this out to your employees, you can begin to engage them on what play means to them, and implement play that will be meaningful for them.

Not feeling philosophical? No problem. Playing video games is (surprisingly) another option. Studies have shown that productivity can go up 20% for those who participate in team video gaming (TVG), in comparison to teams who do more traditional activities. Video games promote learning, recreation, and cooperation.5 If any of your employees has a Wii or PS2 kicking around, tell them to bring it to work! Or if you feel like something less archaic, Jackbox Games are a fun way to get to know others’ creative and humorous side.

If the idea of gaming sounds great, but maybe you want to move around more, there are other options available! How about a Nerf fight or scavenger hunt in the office? Since play is creative, there are tons of options to choose from.

The Power of Play

Play begins with thinking about the world in a particular way. Self-reliance, rules, creativity, awareness, and calmness are the main qualities that make up this type of thinking. The benefits of play (e.g., reducing stress, increasing creativity, and preventing memory problems) are applicable to the workplace. Having discussions with your employees regarding video games, traditional games, and more are a few ways that play can be implemented in this setting.

Now that you know the value play can add to your workplace, take a look around. In what ways could you bring a bit of play into your office?

Download the The Value of Play in the Workplace – Resource & Worksheet.

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1 Burke, Michelle. “The Power of Play at Work.” HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-power-of-play-at-work_b_12011462

2 Gray, Peter. “Definitions of Play.” Scholarpedia. http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Definitions_of_Play

3 National Institute for Play. “The Vision.” http://www.nifplay.org/vision/overview/

4 Robinson, Lawrence et al. “The Benefits of Play for Adults.” HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm

5 Keith, Mark J. et al. “Team Video Gaming for Team Building: Effects on Team Performance.” https://aisel.aisnet.org/thci/vol10/iss4/2/

Visit our Resource Library for all available downloads.

If you require assistance with any of the guides, forms or templates, please contact a BIG representative.

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