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The Benefits of Bringing More Play into Your Work

Play at Work

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

During the magical period we humans call adolescence, we do this strange thing. We utterly stop playing.

Our lives become focused on schoolwork, burgeoning teen hormones, and deciding where we fit within the social morays of middle school, and quite quickly high school.

Dolls get placed into trunks and hidden into dark attics. Magical trolls with jeweled bellies are shoved under the piles of magazines filled with attractive young men and women donning pouts of lip-gloss and sex appeal far beyond their years.

Books filled with whimsy and far away imaginary lands get replaced on shelves by texts espousing historical events, deep thematic imagery, and the magic of “the calculus.”

And so it goes, the joy replaced by intellectual inquiry. Intellectual inquiry replaced by the nine to five job, the nine to five becoming our lives.

I remember the last year I played during my childhood; I was in the seventh grade.

I suppose you could say I was already unabashedly uncool, and disastrously awkward. And yet, I had by some miracle made a friend my age who was in the “in crowd” at school, and invited her over to hang out after school.

Previous to this experience, my idea of hanging out was playing games—board games and games of make believe, for example. My other uncool friends and I did this regularly, and with the abandon of far younger children; we had yet to be nabbed by the cool bug.

I entered her room, a castle to the realm of the cool. A land where Sassy and Teen magazine took over the worlds of the Boxcar Children, Harriet the Spy, and miniature figures in a cupboard. A space littered with Abercrombie Bags, Stila makeup, and locked journals.

Most of us do this. Most of us hide away our interest in play during adolescence. We make room for other activities—dating, hanging out, partying, homework, exercise, and team competitive sports.

Whimsy, past the age of ten, is rarely valued and often dismissed. In adulthood, those that manage to play are often referred to as “immature” or “clutching to childhood.” And yet, there is such deep value in play.

So I ask, when did you last engage in a moment of play?

Lucky for me, it was yesterday. But that hasn’t always been the case.

I too succumbed to a world of nine to five, jobs requiring rote completion day in and day out. The monotony of clock in. Clock out. Coffee breaks at nine, eleven, and two. Meetings. All the time meetings.

Somewhere along the line, in a job known as management, I broke free through play.

It started when my coworker called me “mama duck.” Soon, at quite the fancy pants company, my team was “the ducks.” It was a catalyst.

Then came a laugh at an accidental joke there (and we laughed, even though it was inappropriate).

We held brainstorms, and called them cerebral thunderclouds.

Celebrating a client’s birthday with a perfectly branded image of a birthday cake, complete with their company colors (thanks to Photoshop).

Then we built imaginary presidential campaigns for bosses who were far more qualified than the candidates of 2008. And made the buttons to boot. The office joined in.

The moments were expansive. Each led to happier meetings. Happier clients. Happier team members.

Advertising campaigns became opportunities to reflect our fun (and they worked).

And while we played, work was completed, on time.

The curtain lowered.

And lo and behold, professionalism didn’t dissipate. The company didn’t fall apart. If anything, we all received a moment of joy in our otherwise slog of a job. Turns out, play isn’t just for after the work day.

And if anything negative happened as a result of more play, you’d have to ask the CEO. But we caught him in a Gorilla suit with bananas strewn about his office one day; I’d say he caught the play bug too.

Too often we allow ourselves to be swept up into the stuff of adulthood, and forget that adulthood doesn’t have to equate to boring. And sometimes, adding a bit of play catalyzes work into a space of joy, fulfillment, and creation. Just what your job wants from you.

Give it a try sometime. How can you bring play to your day and work place? If a financial services company can do it, you probably can too.

Office celebration image via Shutterstock

Avatar of Makenna Johnston

About Makenna Johnston

Makenna Johnston is a business strategist and bliss coach with over a decade of creating transformative businesses and experiences. These days she works with entrepreneurs hell-bent on living a life of joy, persistence, and abundance. You can find her at makennajohnston.com.

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  • http://www.anneshealthykitchen.com/ Anne Ricci

    Hi Makenna,

    thanks for this great article! First, I really love the quote. And I can relate with most of what you’re sharing.

    The main difference?

    I started to work for a French company.

    It was in Austria, but the spirit was still French. And this is something I really like about the French corporate culture: we did have coffee breaks, board meetings, suits and ties, but we also made jokes and laughed pretty much every single day.

    The French are usually known abroad for “not being serious” but yet being productive. Which is interesting and confirms what you say: “professionalism didn’t dissipate. The company didn’t fall apart.”

    We had laugh time, joke time, and serious, productive work time. And yes, we were a lot happier.

    I’ve worked in about 8 different countries, mainly for a financial services company (!), and my happiest corporate time, although I had a demanding position, was clearly in Paris.

    Anne

  • http://www.makennajohnston.com makjo

    I have always wanted to live/work/love in Paris. Something about all my time there has screamed that work and loving life can and do go hand in hand.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Sally

    Best place I worked had a Wii. Playing it wasn’t required and no one did. That is, until the day the boss set a company wide memo reminding us we had it and then mandating we HAD to walk away from our cubes for at least ten minutes sometime throughout the day. Just ten minutes. He didn’t care what we did with our free ten minutes or when we took them, but he also reminded us we had a Wii. It was purchased so we’d have fun. And none of us were having fun.

    After that point, it wasn’t unusual to see a group of people clustered around the Wii, laughing and just having fun.

    I really honestly miss working for that company.

  • http://www.makennajohnston.com makjo

    That sounds like a great place to work. I think it is important to be present and have fun, and Wii is a great way to interact with your coworkers too. :)