Being Playful

While play is everything to us as kids, a lot of us seem to lose our sense of play as we grow older and face mounting responsibilities like work, bills and children of our own. Yet play for adults — such as participating in sports, arts, games and celebrations — can reduce our stress, add joy to our lives and help us connect with others.

When starting The Being Group, our Founder Kerry knew she wanted to create an agency grounded in a sense of play, where employees produced their best work because they felt as though they belong somewhere and were happy to be there.

Working somewhere that’s genuinely fun every day, we decided to research why play for adults in the workplace makes all the difference. So, here’s what we found and some tips for being playful.

What is play?

When we think of play, we often imagine the “make believe” games and playground adventures of small children. For adults, it can look very different.

Scientists Meredith Van Vleet and Brooke Feeney define play as a behaviour or activity with the goal of amusement and fun, involving an enthusiastic and in-the-moment attitude, and interactivity between players or with the activity itself.

What does that definition look like in real life? In his book Play, Psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown describes five types of play:

  1. Rough-and-tumble play — staying active with leisure sports, scavenger hunts or dancing.
  2. Ritual play — structured activities like chess, board games or team sports that bring people together.
  3. Imaginative play — being creative with storytelling, crafting, costumes and acting.
  4. Body play — stepping outside of gravity with yoga, hiking, rock climbing, surging and more.
  5. Object play — designing and building with objects.

Benefits of play for adults

The idea that play is good for adults isn’t new or revolutionary, but many of us don’t realise the extent of its benefits — or how natural and important play is for the human experience.

“Play is a basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep,” says Dr Brown. When we’re low on play, our minds and bodies notice. We get cranky.

According to Professor Peter Gray, research shows that for our earliest ancestors, play may have been crucial to building cooperation and sharing among hunter-gatherers, assisting with keeping the peace for long-term survival. Today, play makes us joyful, relieves stress, makes learning new things easier, and connects us to each other and the world.

Doing our best work

In the face of intense pressure at the office, it can be easy to forget the importance of play in creating a fruitful work environment. Remember, play brings out the best in people — which is how we make good things happen, personally and professionally.

It’s been shown that playing at work keeps you functioning at your best when under stress, refreshes your mind and body, supports teamwork, gives you more energy, stops you from getting burnt out, triggers creativity and innovation, and gets you looking at problems in new ways. These things lead to a stronger work ethic, less sick days, and a boost in productivity.

As Dr Brown says: “When employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale.”

The importance of belonging

Another great product of regular play for adults is trust, bonding, solidarity and community building. Just as play helped our ancestors to cooperate and keep the peace, we benefit immensely from feeling we have somewhere we belong.

Like play, we need belonging; it’s “important for individual physical, mental and emotional health and it’s critical to the health of our communities.”

As for the impact on our work lives, research has found desire for acceptance to be a greater motivator than money. People perform better at work when they feel cohesion with their colleagues.

So how do we foster this sense of belonging through play in the workplace? It’s not just about being surrounded by other people. We need quality interactions and experiences every day.

Creating a playful work environment that feels safe

The most important thing to remember when trying to create a playful environment is that everyone is different. What’s fun for some isn’t fun for others. What might be fun outside of the office can lose some of its magic if forced on staff by management.

The best play moments are organic and born out of shared experiences. With the right attitude and consideration, you can foster the kind of environment where being playful is something that simply happens all throughout the working week.

Part of this is ensuring people feel safe not participating if they don’t wish to, and are comfortable sharing their concerns and ideas. Never allow bullying.

Try to encourage different kinds of fun. (Not everyone wants to play table tennis.) Dr Brown identifies eight play personalities who benefit from different behaviours or activities:

  1. The Joker is silly, tells “dad jokes” and likes improv comedy.
  2. The Kinesthete likes physical activity, but not necessarily the competitive kind.
  3. The Explorer seeks out new experiences, art and stories and likes meeting new people.
  4. The Competitor likes to win and probably loves to play table tennis.
  5. The Director is a planner and organiser and likes cooking for the team and throwing parties.
  6. The Collector likes to collect things, surprisingly.
  7. The Artist/Creator is a creative who loves designing and decorating.
  8. The Storyteller is imaginative and likes reading and watching movies.

Some people want to try new things, while others like to tell jokes or stories, share their creativity, or do something active. By encouraging all kinds of play you can ensure everyone can get involved and feel like part of the team.

Culture hygiene

BEING’s Founder advocates what she calls ‘culture hygiene’ — not letting things slip when it comes to office culture. This includes regularly checking in with staff to make sure the culture is working for them and being thorough during the onboarding process so new hires are let in on office jokes and traditions, as well as everyday procedures and rules.

Having recently welcomed a few fresh faces to the team at BEING, we realised how many of our playful activities had grown into traditions that we reference every day. We put together a guide to share during onboarding, so everyone learns the history of all the costumes and toys around the office.

Try to incorporate play and culture hygiene into your office routines in a way that works for you and your team. Not everyone needs to be as OTT as The Being Group — although we definitely encourage it.

Play in the age of Zoom

As with all things in the last year, play in the workplace might look a little bit different than it did before the global pandemic. While writing this blog, Sydney was put into another lockdown and we shifted to working from home again.

While many of our playful activities are put on hold until we can be back in the office, this doesn’t change our attitude to creating a fun work environment.

At BEING, we continue our daily check-in meetings over Zoom, often with spontaneous cameos from our beloved animals, and take to our Instagram story to share the ways we stay positive. We hold virtual birthday parties, team meals and end-of-week catch ups, and try to keep daily life as normal (which for us means silly and fun) as possible.

Is your workplace playful?

If your company or team is a little low on some of these things, it might be time to think about how you can implement a bit more play.

Are you:

  1. Explaining some of the fun stuff that happens around the office during onboarding?
  2. Performing regular culture hygiene checks?
  3. Encouraging fun rituals and routines (the more the merrier)?
  4. Providing a safe environment for spontaneous play?
  5. Allowing for fun, free-flowing chats in meetings?
  6. Getting to know your team and colleagues well?
  7. Laughing regularly?

We’re living proof that if you love what you do and the people you do it with, a sense of play comes through in the quality of work you produce.

For inspiration on keeping things playful at work, see our Being Traditional guide.

To chat about play for adults in the workplace and improving your office culture, say hello to our strategic experts.

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