Playing Up the Benefits of Play at Work

Posted on October 17, 2017

According to the newest research, individuals are more involved in a task and will spend more time on it, if the task is presented in a playful way. Play at work is linked to higher job satisfaction, a sense of competence and creativity, as well as less feelings of being fatigued, bored, stressed, and burned-out.

These positives do not just apply to individuals, but also teams of workers and whole organizations: Teams of workers can benefit from play via increased trust, bonding and social interaction, sense of solidarity, and a decreased sense of hierarchy. Play at work can also benefit whole organizations by creating a friendlier work atmosphere, higher employee commitment to work, more flexible organization-wide decision making, and increased organizational creativity.

Claire Petelczyc and her colleagues explored many of these studies on the area of play at work, and came up with interesting insights, as well as future directions for this area of science. They build their work on an article by Meredith Van Vleet and Brooke Feeney, which defines exactly what play in adults is and what it is not:

- Play is a behavior or activity carried out with the goal of amusement and fun;

- Play involves an enthusiastic and in-the-moment attitude or approach;

- Play is highly interactive among play partners or with the activity itself.

While it might risk taking the fun completely out of workplace fun, a strict, three-rule definition of play helps researchers decide clearly what qualifies as play and what does not. With this definition in mind, Petelczyc and colleagues note that that play at work has some special considerations compared to play in general and play in adults: this definition of play takes into account the inherent power differences among people in workplaces, the goal-oriented nature of work and workers, and the unique culture of workplaces.

Petelczyc and her Team note that the previously mentioned benefits of play at work might be enough to convince a manager to include some playtime into the workday, it still needs more serious examination, in order to allow researchers to fully understand the topic, and make better recommendations, targeted at specific organizations.

Previous research has paid considerable attention to the positive effects of play at work. However, if only the positives are being looked at, it is likely to actually find positive benefits of play at work. More research is needed to investigate the potential dark side of play at work. It is possible, for example, that some short-term positives of play can turn into long-term negatives: Employees may enjoy playing at work in the short term, but find that they have trouble managing play alongside work to the point of distraction, lost productivity, and guilt long term.

Moving forward, Petelczyc and colleagues recommend researchers look more closely at how play affects workers’ use of resources, such as time, energy, focus and attention. Also, research on exactly how employees play to help regulate emotions, and how play fits into reaching their goals (e.g., getting to know supervisors better, networking, building up goodwill with group members) could be beneficial.

Category(s):Other, Workplace Issues

Source material from Association for Psychological Science

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