Why Is Play Important For A Company’s Work Environment?

By Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco

Many companies cannot relate to the concept of “play” in activities performed in their workplaces. On the contrary, in business, most companies tend to be focused on setting clear measurable objectives, and working in a determined, hard and disciplined way to achieve these very goals, which seems to be completely unrelated to the concept of play. Moreover, these organisations often have a variety of intricate internal regulations (e.g. policies, procedures, guidelines, etc.) which discourage the introduction of any playful activities or events in their work environments.

There is also a well-ingrained belief that employees should never be distracted from pursuing their companies’ purposes; oftentimes, these employees are pushed to work continually and drudgingly, as if they should be on duty 24/7. However, copious research has shown that this relentless approach often leads to employees’ burnout, and a lack of work-life balance, which are both detrimental to the achievement of an organisation’s goals.

In simple words, companies traditionally tend to encourage employees to focus exclusively on “serious” activities, which are those conducive to the achievement of a company’s economic aims. Consequently, play does not seem to have a real place in most business endeavours. However, over the years, the relationship between play and work activities has started to gain a more predominant place in the workplace, and in the business arena in general.

In relation to this, the prestigious scholar Henry Murray in his renowned book “Motivation and Emotions” has shown that play is one of the most important social needs. This author gave some examples of play, such as performing activities without any specific purpose, making jokes, focusing on stress-releasing events, and partaking in games and social events. Some of the most important advantages of the importance of play for work activities are enumerated below:

  • The humanistic scholar Abraham Maslow has shown that when people adopt a more playful and light-hearted attitude toward business activities, they tend to be more good-humoured and less hostile, which improves the quality of their interactions with other stakeholders. A common factor in all these playful activities and events is that they boost employees’ emotional states. In relation to this, research has pinpointed that employees’ positive emotions represent a very relevant factor contributing to success in all work endeavours.
  • Some research studies observed that play activities make people more creative and experimental, and more prone to generate innovative ideas. This research has also concluded that, when people participate in playful activities, more neural connections are developed in their brains, which provides these individuals with more flexibility and adaptiveness to face business challenging circumstances.
  • Some researchers observed that the introduction of playful activities in the work environment improves staff morale and energy levels. Moreover, people who relate to others in a more playful manner tend to develop more personal, human, fresher, and authentic connections with them. These playful activities help people see each other beyond business roles, social masks, and job specifications, which contributes to a more spontaneous and genuine communication between them.

Consequently, companies should take into account the benefits of play previously mentioned and consider the following suggestions. This advice can be applied to any company and has the purpose of gradually introducing more playful activities and events in the workplace.

Framing playful activities in a positive manner: It is important to understand that playful activities are not time-wasting or superficial, as many managers and CEOs might think; instead these activities are of high value for any organisation. The frequent introduction of playful activities encourages people to improvise, explore more innovative business paths, strengthen their social interactions, and favour team-playing projects. These playful activities have a common trait: most organisational formal procedures and formal aspects are left aside in a temporary manner, which prompts employees to behave in a more explorative and spontaneous manner. Research has also observed that that playful interactions foster the release of a hormone called oxytocin, which positively contributes to people’s well-being. This study also concluded that oxytocin also fosters pro-social interactions such as co-operating, trusting others, etc.

Asking reflective questions on play: Most work environments are replete with hectic schedules, and endless demotivating routines. Therefore, it is essential that companies can regularly ask themselves relevant questions regarding the importance of play for their workplaces. For instance, a company should pose relevant questions like: “How can we introduce more playful activities in this workplace?”, “How can work tasks be performed in a more fun way?” and “How can be celebrate our business achievements with fun social events?”

Valuing the relaxing and revitalising effects of play: Relevant research has highlighted that people have a need for fun and novel and diverse experiences. In that sense, play and work need to be perceived as mutually supportive. As seen previously, playful events allow employees to temporarily retreat from goal-oriented, pressurising and repetitive tasks – so common in most workplaces – in order to engage in activities where they can be more present, spontaneous, and even “let their hair down.” At these playful events, people tend to feel more energised and release the stress experienced during the worktime. These activities also disrupt the monotony of work tasks, allowing employees to go back to work with more revitalised energy, which tends to have a positive impact on their company’s productivity levels.

Organising regular social events: This type of events tends to be more relaxing, which prompts employees to connect to one another more closely. Some of these events can be organised to celebrate recent company achievements, for instance, setting up a new business branch. However, it is important to also organise events with no specific purpose, just for employee to have some playful time.   Some examples of these events are: non-business dinners, company anniversary meals, mindfulness or yoga retreats for employees, sports and board games tournaments, picnics and meetings in natural environments, cultural gatherings (visit to exhibitions, museums, plays, etc.), and other social gatherings (cocktails, artistic workshops, etc.).

Emulating examples of playful activities: It is important for companies to look for examples in the marketplace of playful events organised by other organisations. These examples can be taken as references to be adapted by each company to the specific characteristics of its own workplace. As an example, Innocent Drinks produces natural juice drinks and it is focused on developing a playful workplace. For instance, this company has table tennis activities at the workplace for its employees to wind down. Zappos, a well-known online retailer, also looks to enhance its employees’ wellbeing through fun activities (golf lessons, basketball matches, etc.). Alternatively, companies can look for organisations which offer playful activities to corporate clients. For example, an organisation called The Events Company offers its clients a diverse set of playful events, such as Pub Games, Singing Workshops, Games Galore, and even bespoke social activities. These events are aimed at contributing to the development of team-building attitude and enhance communication skills in their corporate clients.

This article is based on the book titled “The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise” (2019, Routledge) by Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco

About the Author

Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco is a business consultant, international speaker, university lecturer and researcher. His new book is titled “The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise” (2019, Routledge) His website is www.humanorientedenterprise.com


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