If you allow employees to engage in play, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.“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.”  – Dr. Stuart Brown

Do you remember those gleeful moments in elementary school, when you breathlessly stared at the ticking clock on the wall, just waiting for the bell to ring so you could scramble outside for recess? Do you remember the pure joy of fresh air, connecting with your best buddies, and just letting go (if only for a moment) of math problems and spelling words?

And then somewhere along the way – 6th, 7th, or 8th grade – there was no more recess. No more playing tag, jumping rope or laughing with your friends. And you slowly learned the art of staying focused – and serious – all day long.

Well, guess what? Recess is back. Or at least, it should be back for all of us adults who generally spend our days in endless meetings or fervently pecking away at our keyboards. So the question is this: are you ready to come out and play?

Why play is important

Scientists have repeatedly shown that play has a direct impact on creativity and productivity. There’s even an actual institute that’s dedicated to the subject of play. The National Institute of Play, located in Carmel Valley, California was founded by Dr. Stuart Brown, who believes that humans are “… uniquely designed by nature to enjoy and participate in play throughout life.”

Taking time out to play helps us forget (if only for a moment) our over-scheduled calendars and never-ending commitments. It provides us with unstructured relief and opportunities for creativity. There doesn’t have to be a point, purpose or goal when it comes to play. Playtime, or adult recess, doesn’t have to be an organized retreat or solve a team problem. Play should be fun and bring joy to those involved! It’s that simple.

Benefits of play

So besides making you feel great, why is adult play such a big deal? For starters, play is a huge stress-reliever. It can stimulate learning, help you connect to others, positively impact your productivity at work, and enhance professional and personal relationships. As Brown has said, “Highly successful people have a rich play life … play affects mental and physical health for both adults and children.”

More specifically, play can:

  • Release endorphins. Play is not only fun, it can trigger and release endorphins, which are the body’s natural chemicals that make us feel pleasure. This can relieve stress, serve as temporary pain relief, and give us a sense of well-being.
  • Enhance brain function. Any activity that challenges the brain helps with the prevention of memory loss and improves brain function. So any type of play that involves puzzles, games or group interaction can stimulate the brain and even help ward off depression.
  • Boost creativity. Young children are encouraged to learn through play, because that approach often works best. This is applicable to adults, too. Learning new tasks or skills is more effective when done in a relaxed, playful manner. But play also stimulates our creativity through imagination, problem-solving and plain old laughter.
  • Create powerful connections. The act of playing and connecting with others often results in joy, empathy, trust, compassion and intimacy with friends, family and colleagues. The state-of-mind play fosters if what matters. Play can serve to break the ice among strangers, help foster new relationships, and strengthen teams and business partners.
  • Improve performance. When adults play at work, it can help increase productivity and improve relationships with colleagues and clients. A playful work environment encourages teamwork and increases energy while helping to prevent burnout. It can also trigger innovation, creative problem-solving and inspiration.

How to Play

There are endless ways to incorporate play – or recess time – into your daily routine. Try not to overthink it, and embrace your spontaneous side. Here are some ideas that might work for you:

  • Share some corny jokes or silly videos
  • Get outside and throw a Frisbee or ball around
  • Get a group together and go bowling
  • Host an office charades party
  • Have a spontaneous and comical “talent show”
  • Put a basketball hoop in the break area
  • Arrange office putt putt
  • Have an office treasure hunt
  • Keep tactile puzzles on the conference room table
  • Encourage employee to decorate their desks
  • Plan a game night or lunch hour
  • Play four square or ping pong
  • Purchase an office beach ball
How do you play?

I’ve shared just a small list of ideas for adult play, but I’d like to hear about more of them from you. Do you make a habit of playing each day, and what specifically do you do? And what benefits have you noticed when you let loose and enjoy your own recess? Please share your best play ideas or experiences below.

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