The importance of play at work

The working population spends almost 70% of their days at work. We all know that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (/girl!)’, so what can we do to ensure employees have plenty of ‘play’ on the job?

Historically, ‘play’ has been associated with children, but there is a growing trend recognizing the importance of play in adults. The concept of play began as part of our fight-or-flight response and has since been part of all cultures around the world – it is part of the fabric of being human.

Apart from the occasional team get-togethers, which usually involve food and drinks, workplace play is still generally overlooked and largely seen as mutually exclusive (when you’re playing, you’re not working!). If employers have experienced significant shifts in the working landscape since the pandemic, it is now accepted that raising the ‘level of play’ in daily employee interactions can solve more than one current problem facing teams.

Why should employers up the game in the workplace?

Improved mental health

The NHS looks at mental wellbeing through five key pillars: connecting with people, being physically active, learning new skills, giving to others and paying attention to the present moment.

Playing more generally leads to a greater connection with people; playing offers the opportunity to be physically active; depending on the nature of the game, employees can learn new skills; and during the game, employees are forced to be present in the moment, ideally allowing work and private concerns to temporarily fade into the background.

In 2022, London School Economics published a study that playing location-based games that encourage outdoor activities, face-to-face socialization and exposure to nature can alleviate mild depression. The research results were based on Pokemon Go, but other events, such as StreetHunt Games’ gamification of city exploration, were also cited as popular examples.

Tackling the reduced connection as a result of hybrid working

It’s been almost two years since COVID 19 restrictions ended, but we’ve seen a permanent change in work-from-home culture compared to before the pandemic. While working from home used to be the exception, by May 2023, 39% of workers in Britain had worked from home at some point in the past seven days.

This reduction in face-to-face interaction at work means employers need to find other ways to ensure their teams are connected. Introducing play elements into the working day, for example bringing colleagues together during face-to-face play, can potentially reduce the risk of isolation and loneliness.

Cognitive benefits

Play is believed to have cognitive benefits for adults, including improved memory, attention and problem-solving skills. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play, once said that “play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability and creativity… Nothing stimulates the brain like play.”

A 2022 BBC article asked: “Is it time we started taking ‘play’ more seriously?” The article explored the reasons why children play and explained by Sam Wass, a child psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of East London, that play helps build connections between different parts of the brain that were previously not necessarily connected. goods.

Increased happiness and therefore productivity

There is a significant benefit to employers who have happier employees. Research from the University of Oxford shows that happy employees are 13 percent more productive.

For Samantha Warren, professor at the University of Portsmouth, ‘having a good laugh at work seems to be the answer to everything’.

Her work suggests that playfulness can make companies better with effects such as “less absenteeism, greater engagement, more creativity, better team building and overall happiness.”

What practical changes can organizations make to integrate more play into the workplace?

Introduce playing into team training

Learning and development are crucial to a team’s success and one way to increase employee engagement is to introduce game elements into training and workshops.

This is a concept that LEGO uses in their LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methodology. They host facilitated sessions, where participants play with LEGO and discover that this kind of hands-on, mind-on learning provides a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities. It encourages reflection and develops problem-solving skills and the use of the imagination.

Bring play to team socials

Historically, team socials have included dinner and a reliance on alcoholic beverages, but there is a growing trend to increase the level of play at such events and move to activity-based team socials instead.

As reported by Raconteur, VenueScanner’s head of BSB Sophie Knight noted that they have seen a 2.5x increase in bookings for experience and activity-based venues over the 2023 Christmas period, compared to last year.

There are a number of examples of activity-based team socials, such as bowling, electronic darts, crazy golf, escape rooms and outdoor treasure hunts. Events like StreetHunt Games and Monopoly Lifesized generate a significant portion of their revenue from corporate bookings.

Provide sufficient breaks

More play can also be enabled by ensuring that employees have time and flexibility during their workday to fit in their choice of activities. Consider a game of squash or tennis with a colleague or friends, a gym or dance class or a game of table tennis at the workplace.

Table Tennis England reported that 51% of table tennis participants in the workplace reported that they had increased their physical activity levels since playing at work. Healthy body = healthy mind!

The use of technology

There is now an entire industry dedicated to providing gamification software to companies with the aim of increasing engagement. This includes games that employees play to teach them how to become better salespeople, or self-improvement training using habit tracking software.

If companies want to improve processes in the workplace, gamification software can also provide an efficient solution. Wazoku, a web-based tool for generating and innovating workplace ideas, integrates challenges and leaderboards into such activities, facilitating play and improving work practices/environments.

Play is not a new concept; it was a method used in Roman times to appease the gods. The Roman Games included chariot races, gladiatorial contests, and theatrical performances held in honor of Jupiter, the king of the gods.

Although not new, its role in adult society and particularly in the workplace is evolving and a likely trend in 2024 is that the importance of play continues to increase for both employers and employees.

Annalisa Sturge

Annaliza Sturge is co-founder of StreetHunt Games along with her husband Tony Sturge, married accountants who love to travel and seek unique experiences including immersive events, escape rooms and theater. Together they launched the events company in 2021. StreetHunt Games offer engaging, self-guided outdoor mysteries set around captivating locations – think adult scavenger hunt, escape room and murder mystery, set outdoors in a city. All you need is a phone and a sense of adventure!

#importance #play #work

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