The Power of Play at Work

The Power of Play at Work


How many of you find that you take yourself and whatever happens to you very seriously while you’re in ‘work mode’? Do you find you answer the phone differently, even if it’s a friend or spouse calling during the work day? Fire off emails a little bit sharper and more business-like?

It all feels so very important and serious when its work. At Fairy Godmother Inc, we sometimes find we take ourselves and our tasks very seriously indeed. The question is, is it really that serious and important, or does our conditioning make it so? And what difference would it make to a work day, if we brought an element of play into the day, even if it’s just a playful attitude.

Firstly, let’s get rid of those beliefs that play is a waste of time, only for children or a frivolous activity. You don’t need to feel guilty for playing or think that it’s unproductive or a waste of time. Many adults feel that if an activity doesn’t make money, teach us a new skill or move us up the corporate ladder, then we shouldn’t be doing it. If you believe any of these things, read on to find out about just how beneficial play is to your wellbeing.

“Play is not just an activity; it’s a state of mind that brings new energy and sparks creativity.” Dr Stuart Brown MD

Dr Stuart Brown (an expert on Play and the founder of the Institute of Play) believes work and play are mutually supportive. That we need the newness of play, the discovery and liveliness of it AND that we need the purpose of work, being needed and providing service to others.

Studies show that people who have engaged in play throughout their lives and bring that emotion to the office do well at work related tasks that seem to have no connection at all to play. So how do you bring play into your work day?

Play breeds creativity

Creativity is the common link between work and play. In both activities we are creating our world anew, forming new relationships between concepts, people and things, and building new neural connections in the brain. Creativity is essential for innovation, problem solving, product creation, business development and pretty much almost every business process.

By playing more, we engage the creative side of our brain in whatever task we are focusing on, allowing for new creative possibilities, solutions and ideas. Making new patterns, sparking curiosity and finding the unusual among the common are all fostered by being in a state of play.

Dr Brown states that play at work is essential. A playful attitude does wonders for a productive creative day. Imaginative play allows people to get a healthy perspective on a problem or a situation, and then see the way out of the problem. A friendly competition can inspire people to reach for higher goals than before.

Or a personal competition to see how fast you can work through your to do list can inspire you and be fun at the same time. A silent make-believe narrative may make an otherwise dull task interesting.

The world famous Pike Place fish market in Seattle is a perfect example of Play at Work. Working with fish is a smelly, cold, wet and generally not fun. But the staff at Pike Place fish market LOVE their jobs and LOVE handling fish all day. Why? Because they get to play all day while working. The tasks they do all day are dull and tedious, but the attitude they bring to their day, makes these tasks feel like play.

They serve customers with a smile and a joke, entertain them by talking to the fish, delight them by sending fish sailing through the air and make them laugh with silly stories. The energy in the Pike Place fish market is one of lightness, laughter and play, and customers come in hordes to soak up the vibe and buy lots of fish of course! This little story can be applied to any company and any task. It’s all about choosing a playful attitude.

Built-in fun

The companies that are growing, thriving and attracting the best talent are those where play and fun are built-in to the company culture – Google and Facebook are cases in point.

Life should be enjoyable. Work occupies such a big part of life and should definitely be enjoyable. Finding joy in a big project you’re working on and actually enjoying your work is a good thing. When we lack that feeling of lightness in what we do it should be taken as a warning sign, as alarming as chest pain or shortness of breath.

So if you get the niggling feeling that you’re missing something, Move, Skip, Dance, Spin, Walk, Jump, Swing upside down, do a backflip, hike, play scrabble, throw a frizbee, do cartwheels, but get playing!

Donna McCallum
Donna McCallum is also known as the Fairy Godmother. She has helped thousands of people in South Africa, the UK and the US focus on their dreams and goals. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother’s Guide to Getting What you Want and runs empowering 12 Week Money Magic Online Programme to help people transform their relationship to money. Prior to being a Fairy Godmother, Donna was a successful entrepreneur having started, built and sold businesses in media and marketing. For more info on Donna and the Money Magic courses, visit the Fairy Godmother website.