Play at Work: An Antidote to the Daily Grind

According to Gallup, the average full-time worker spends 47 hours a week on the clock. So ponder this for a minute: If work isn’t a fun environment, that’s an awful lot of drudgery. Perhaps the grind explains the miserly 32.6 percent of employees who are engaged in their work.

The concept of play at work isn’t new. The now-outdated company softball team used to  be a way for employees to get to know one another outside of work, which translated back into the office with better communication and collaboration. Fun also spawns creative energy and increases employee retention rates. These days, more and more companies—from Google to MasterCard—are recognizing the importance of integrating play into the workday and have taken the concept much further than softball, encouraging staff to play in a multitude of ways.

But what’s the best way to create a play ethic in the office, especially if you don’t have a Google budget or the square footage for ping-pong and foosball tables? Don’t worry. Creating a playful workplace and building camaraderie needn’t require extravagance. (And if your workforce is made up of millennials, they aren’t interested in playing ping-pong at work anyway.)

First, The Rules

1. Play is an invitation, never an obligation: It’s no fun being told to play. (If you were ever told to “go outside and play” as a kid, you know how those words can dampen the fun—at least momentarily.)

2. If you want to establish a play ethic, senior-level staff should lead by example—as they would with any other company value. Otherwise, it will be tough for employees to adopt.

Let the Games Begin
With that foundation in mind, here are a few starter ideas to bring a more playful vibe to the workplace:

Before a meeting begins, identify three or so keywords that will likely be used a few times throughout the session. (Select words appropriate to the meeting’s subject.) Then identify an action for each keyword. For example, if “fiduciary” is established as a keyword, ask everyone to laugh maniacally when it’s mentioned (i.e. muahahahah!). Or if the keyword is “team,” tell the group to high-five one another, switch seats or get up and jump. These absurd responses will bring actions to meetings, as well as ramp up the engagement level as people listen closely for the keywords.   

Collaborative Etch A Sketch
When was the last time you held an Etch A Sketch? And have you ever done a collaborative Etch A Sketch, where two people draw something in tandem, each controlling only one knob? Acquire some classic Etch A Sketches and hold a collaborative Etch A Sketch tournament: Pair people into teams and provide them with a simple drawing to mimic. Set a timer for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on complexity of the drawing, and then hold a judging round to decide on the winning team.

Fantasy Sports Leagues
New research conducted by Penisula—an HR, employment law, and health and safety consultancy in the UK—suggests that fantasy football leagues create an opportunity for employees to connect. Of 800 workers surveyed, 62 percent said that a fantasy football league boosted their morale, and 49 percent found it helped build relationships with colleagues. Fantasy sports leagues can be created for most any sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc.) and the “team owners” can be made up of actual company work teams who choose the athletes together and compete against other departments or teams.

Office Hide N Seek
Without telling your employees or colleagues, gather some random objects that aren’t normally found in the office (rubber chickens, bags of candy, stuffed animals, small gift certificates for coffee or books, etc.) and hide them around the office. Wait and see what happens as people discover the hidden surprises one by one.

Incorporating moments of playfulness won’t undermine the seriousness of an organization’s mission, but it can change the pace of things and encourage employees to interact in new ways.

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