When Play in the Workplace is Serious Business

Are there moments of fun and play in your work day?

Earlier this month, I contributed to a TODAY Show segment that explored how some companies are making periods of play and fun part of their culture.

When executed with intention, play can be important. It’s not goofing off — it’s serious business meant to encourage innovation, team collaboration and employee engagement.

For example, a bank in Nashville gave employees an optional break from their normal routine for one afternoon. They hosted a corn hole tournament that gave people time to re-energize, forge new connections and build camaraderie outside the context of their regular day-to-day routine. Twenty teams of four from across the organization competed and the afternoon was wildly successful.

Even if moments of fun aren’t officially incorporated into a workplace culture, each person can identify the type of “play” that re-energizes and helps them be their best, on and off the job.

For example, I talked to a trauma nurse who intentionally tries to interject what she called “moments of joy” into an otherwise high-pressured workplace.  Whether it’s a quick joke or a funny/happy story she’s heard, she finds a moment to share it.  Realizing how these “moments of joy” helped to manage the high stress of their day-to-day work, some of her co-workers have now joined in.

At the end of the TODAY Show segment, Matt Lauer says, “I would think that this type of play would make me less focused. I would be thinking about who pegged me at dodgeball all afternoon.” His reaction is a reminder to organizations: one size doesn’t fit all.  There are different definitions of fun and play.  Some people will prefer organized, competitive options, but others might like an impromptu “dishes from around the world” tasting lunch where everyone brings a favorite food from another country to try.

Successful implementation requires a culture and guiding framework that supports (but doesn’t mandate) the creativity to identify what moments of fun and play can benefit both the business and its people.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of play has encouraged innovation in your workplace? How do you make time for these moments at work? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page.