On a surface level, many organizations understand the value of bringing employees together to play. In 2019, 75-85% of organizations in the United States hosted holiday parties, and 75% of HR managers believed that employees should have frequent opportunities to experience fun at work. But “fun at work” can be difficult to define, and even harder to pull off in a consistent, authentic manner.
Oftentimes, leaders and organizations incorporate play in a half-hearted way because they’re supposed to, not because they truly understand its value. Conversely, organizations that understand and embrace the psychology of play are more likely to incorporate it into their cultures in a way that truly impacts organizational health.
What is the Psychology of Play?
In its simplest form, psychology is the study of the mind and human behavior. Although there are many different definitions of play, play is generally defined as any activity that is purposeless, voluntary, outside the ordinary, fun, and focused on rules.
Therefore, the psychology of play is the study of how play impacts the mind and human behavior. There is a strong positive correlation between play and mental health, and research has shown the positive neurological and psychological effects of play, including:
- Triggering the release of dopamine, which improves mood, memory, and focus
- Activating norepinephrine, which is associated with learning and attention.
- Reducing stress
- Promoting optimism
- Stimulating creativity
- Building cognitive flexibility
- Strengthening perspective-taking
Psychology of Play at Work
In recent years, researchers have been studying how the psychology of play impacts adults at work. Research has revealed that play at work is associated with improving employee engagement and efficiency:
- Less fatigue
- Less boredom
- Lower levels of stress, and burnout
- Higher job satisfaction and sense of competence
- Increased productivity
- Lower levels of absenteeism
- Increased trust among team members
- Greater sense of solidarity
Doesn’t that sound like a healthy work culture to you? In addition, play can also increase teams’ psychological safety, which is a shared belief that the work environment is conducive to interpersonal risk. Psychological safety has been cited as the number one factor that contributes to high team performance.
How Does Encouraging Play at Work Benefit Organizational Health?
A healthy organization is one that is able to efficiently execute its strategy and achieve its goals. An organization is a system, and just like any system, it’s only as healthy as its individual parts. Research shows that when employees are happy with their work and careers, organizational health improves.
The psychological effects of play at work contribute to healthier, happier, and more productive work cultures where employees are more likely to stick around for the long haul, even during challenging times.
How to Start Incorporating Play Into Your Work Culture
Cultivating a more playful work culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes more than one holiday party a year to experience the positive psychological effects of play at work. It takes consistent and intentional effort to build a culture where play is valued as highly as productivity, and it starts with leaders.
If you’re a leader, consider the following tips to begin creating a healthier work culture through play.
- Consistently incorporate play into your team meetings. Whether it’s an icebreaker or a casual discussion about the weekend, create opportunities for people to engage with each other in fun, relaxing ways before getting down to business.
- Take a play break! Show your employees that you value play by taking breaks to engage in activities that energize you, and encourage them to do the same.
- Purposefully design and incorporate play to help you achieve your goals. For example, if you want to facilitate a collaborative brainstorming session, start by playing a game that focuses on building on other people’s ideas. Here’s an example of one of our favorites!
Learn Through Play at Work with Ziksana!
Bring your team to PlaySocial, Ziksana’s playful end-of-year event at Stone Brewery in Liberty Station on December 2, 2021! Tickets are FREE and include beers, appetizers, and an evening of fun activities to help you connect with your team. Sign up now, or explore some of our other leadership development training programs and leadership training events today!