Work can be play, too (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ wrote Jack Torrance in The Shining, over and over again until he went mad and ended up as a frozen corpse in the Colorado snow.
An absence of fun in the workplace is unlikely to make you go the full Jack Nicholson, but if you don’t make time for play during your 9 to 5, you could be missing out on more than fun.
Bringing playtime to work can make you an all-round better person, say experts.
We’re hard-wired to play – it’s intrinsic to our evolution as complex human beings, helping us develop physically, cognitively and emotionally.
The National Institute for Play in California states that 30 years of scientific research has revealed play to be extremely productive for humans at any age. Beyond childhood it helps our brains stay flexible, keeps depression at bay and sharpens our social-emotional skills.
Despite this, us adults tend to see play as the opposite of work. It’s often not purpose-driven but purely for fun – something for leisure time only. But with work filling most of our waking hours, that leaves us with a very play-deficient existence.
If you’re reading this from your tech start-up office, with its basketball hoops and pool tables, then you probably don’t recognise this problem. But we can’t all be a Google employee and visit the accounts department via an enormous slide (yes, these actually exist).
In a regular job, is it appropriate to be playful? And how can we play at work without irritating our colleagues or, even worse, getting the sack?
In her new book Why We Play: How To Find Joy And Meaning In Everyday Life (which you might want to leave on your manager’s desk), psychotherapist Joanna Fortune describes how practising play at work can be transformative.
Make space in your day for creativity (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
‘As committed professionals, a decreased play drive might benefit us initially as we focus on career progression,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘But if we push playfulness aside for a prolonged period of time we begin to feel flat, lose our spark and our engagement level drops across all areas of our lives, including work.’
To reignite our work mojo we need to tap into our playful side and remember what we enjoyed doing as children.
Joanna explains: ‘Work is often understood as being the opposite of play, but this is a misunderstanding. The work we find most satisfying and fulfilling tends to be an extension of an activity we enjoyed during our earlier lives.’
But if you loved potato printing as a kid and ended up as a data analyst rather than a graphic designer, playing at work isn’t for you, right? Not so, says Joanna. Just stay curious.
‘A curious mind is a playful mind, and play fuels creativity – a commodity in the workplace, no matter what line of business we’re in,’ she tells us. ‘Play can also enhance productivity and create a more flexible and adaptable mind – all of which are essential skills for a productive work life.’
With play inevitably comes laughter. A wealth of research backs claims that a good belly laugh can have a powerful effect on our physical health and mental wellbeing. The use of laughter in groups is particularly successful due to its contagious nature – we’re 30 times more likely to laugh with others than on our own.
Lotte Mikkelsen, laughter yoga master trainer at UnitedMind, helps corporate clients harness the power of play and laughter through her workshops. This benefits not just individual employees, but whole team dynamics.
‘When we laugh, not only do we release endorphins but a whole ‘joy cocktail’ which we distribute around our body,’ she explains. ‘One of the chemicals released is oxytocin, our love hormone.
‘This helps us feel bonded with the people we laugh with, and when we laugh together it’s so much easier to work together too. We become more likeable and approachable as laughter connects us. The connections we make are deeper and based on love and kindness instead of ego and judgment.’
Lotte’s group laughter exercise
Don’t wait for the annual team building away day, with its cringey icebreakers and role-playing – try this five-minute laughter exercise every day to bond with colleagues.
Get everyone in a circle and begin with a stretch and several long, deep belly breaths to prep the diaphragm and lungs.
Awaken the facial muscles with a few repetitions of ‘ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee’.
Practise some ‘appreciation laughter’ by putting both hands in a thumbs-up position. Go around and smile broadly at each workmate and laugh warmly as if to say, ‘I appreciate you’.
Feel silly? Pretending to laugh often provokes real laughter, so fake it until you make it and embrace the playfulness!
Bosses that allow for play reap the benefits. ‘It’s often worth more than the company could have hoped for in terms of improving staff retention and reducing stress-related time off work,’ she adds.
All well and good but if your colleagues appear resistant to your suggestion of a quick wheelie chair race around the office, how can you insert playfulness into a flat office vibe?
Joanna suggests building in mini play-breaks at your desk ‘discreetly but not secretly’.
Then, when you feel confident: ‘Talk about your play-life openly, the activities you choose for fun and laughter, and invite colleagues to share the same with you.
‘We might assume colleagues will judge us, but if you blow up a balloon and spend a few minutes practising keepie-uppies, before long someone will come and join you rather than judge you.
‘When we make space for playful connection, we make play possible.’
Joanna’s mini play-break ideas
‘When you feel blocked in your work, turn away, change your field of vision and immerse yourself in some play exercises to re-set your busy, overwrought brain,’ says Joanna.
Keep some modelling clay or LEGO in your desk drawer and spend five to 10 minutes a day making something from scratch. Pick a new subject each time – an alien; a dream house; a self-portrait. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by calls or emails so you can be completely immersed in the task.
Place a pencil in your non-dominant hand. Position the pencil on a blank piece of paper and close your eyes as you count down from 15 to one. Move the pencil around the page in a doodle. Open your eyes, turn the page 180 degrees. Now add a few features to turn the scribble into something recognisable – is it an animal, a person, a building, a place?
Take a break from the office and visit a nearby gallery or museum. Walk around with a fantasy budget in your head and choose a painting or exhibit to buy from each room. Think where you would place it at home.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Play can make you better at your job.