Start Playing Too Much

September 20, 2013 No Comments by Travis Jones

Start Playing Too Much - Let's Talk About WorkWork is not the same as it was 50 years ago, or even 15 years ago! Flexible work arrangements have thrown the traditional 9 to 5 out the window.  In an effort to boost employee morale, productivity and engagement organizations are offering perks from bringing your dog to work to providing places to “play” during the workday.  This month at LTAW we are talking about the unconventional in the workplace…which we are sure will someday become the new normal.

Imagine it’s a Tuesday afternoon and you are one hour into what will be a several hour drudge through a sea of emails when a co-worker taps you on the shoulder holding a volleyball and challenges you to join the rest of your smiling colleagues in a friendly match. You agree, and everyone jumps onto their Razr scooters and whisks their way through the workplace to the on campus court. On the way you pass someone getting a full body massage, a lively Yoga class, an intense game of Ping pong and several people engaged in casual conversation on cushy leather couches spread throughout the facility. Before you reach the volleyball court you loop through the open kitchen to snag one of your favorite snacks that are laid out for anyone to enjoy.

If this sounds like a really cheesy beer commercial trying too hard to convince you of their product’s ability to spice up your life, its not (but it could be). It’s just a typical day at work… at Google. Google has now become a leader in the dot com industry for the importance of blending work and play. Their philosophy of work is even “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.” So what does Google, and now many others, know that the rest of corporate America seems so blind to? They know what many of us experienced as children but have forgotten later in life; that creativity, productivity and innovation happens most naturally when we are lost in the enjoyment of an activity. When you were a child, you learned so many things at such a rapid pace (artistic abilities, new books, new games, movies, etc) and much of it seemed effortless. Why? One reason is that children are (hopefully) given “a pass” for a period of their lives where they are allowed to experiment and fail without consequence. They are also encouraged, and given time and space, to play. Sadly, this seems to change as we progress into adulthood. One of my favorite quotes, and life long challenges, is by Pablo Picasso who said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.”

Companies that encourage play at work are beginning to offer a solution to this de-childization that seems to be inherent in so many workplaces. The other good news is that there is a growing, albeit small, body of research on the empirical benefits of play in stimulating creativity. This is especially important at a time when 80% of employees say they are unhappy at work. I am not naïve enough to think that Google alone can change the way work has been done and thought about for the last 100 years, but I am hopeful that they may get the ball rolling. Not every company can, or should, create a facility like Googles’, but I think every company should start to include the concept of “play” into their organizational vocabulary. Stuart Brown, a researcher on the benefits of play, says “I tend to think of play as a state of being…play is individual, and play patterns that work for one person may not work for another. Google has been insightful because they have a whole spectrum of play opportunities so employees can find the niche that works for them.”

The concept that work and play are polar opposites that should be separated runs deep through the American psyche. You see it when we utter, “there is a time and place for everything” or when we scold someone for “playing too much” or not “acting their age.” I hope, especially for the mental health of employees and the future of creative innovation, that playing, laughing, joking and enjoyment lose their negative cultural stigma at work and become staple concepts in organizational thought and practice.

Be Unconventional!


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