Further down the list, though, we get to some definitions that might be more attractive: to act like a fool, joke, play...to jest, pretend, make believe...to fool around, putter aimlessly, waste time.
It’s understandable that no one wants to be perceived as stupid or lacking judgement. We learn early in school not to go too far outside the rules. And we carry that conformity and earnestness into our work life. We humans are social animals, and we need to be accepted by our fellows in order to thrive.
But what if playing the fool was a good thing? Recent research is showing that all this seriousness might actually be damaging not only our health but our productivity. It turns out that the “buckle down and focus” model does not produce sustainable results.
Children who get more recess, and especially more time outside, have better academic results throughout their school years. Unstructured play time may function as an important, if not crucial, mode for learning. Play improves memory, language development, problem solving, reasoning, and self-regulation. (1)
And it seems this is also true for adults. More and more companies are experimenting with incorporating opportunities for play into the work environment.
Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, says, “There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.” (2)
Play literally opens new neural pathways, allowing for greater creativity and social connection/team building. It also lowers stress levels and improves concentration. So that old idea that we have to keep our noses to the grindstone at all times seems not to be the best path for productivity and especially creativity. The old paradigm sees play and work as separate, play as the opposite of work. However, play is as basic and as pervasive a natural phenomenon as sleep. (3)
Taking this thinking to the next level, several corporations, including the always innovative Virgin, are giving employees unlimited vacation time. Not tracking vacation time has led to incredible boosts in morale, creativity and productivity. (4)
Changing what we’ve always been taught can be difficult. Some companies find they have to insist that their employees take time off.
We at Holistic Performance Group make it a point to play together on a regular basis. When we hold our corporate retreats we have to be sure not to be too close to other functions because we laugh so loudly. And we endeavor to include that spirit of play in the workshops that we organize for our clients.
Showing up for work every day is hard. You gotta make it fun.