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How to Use Fun and Play Effectively at Work

culture May 24, 2018

April begins with April Fools’ Day and opening day of the Major League Baseball season.

I may not be excited about being the butt-end of a prank, but I do think laughter and games have their place within a healthy company culture. We can’t all play for the Yankees, but we can all enjoy our time spent on the job. All too often, we regard work and fun as entirely separate spheres of our lives. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive?

The Rise of Play at Work

It wasn’t long ago that any time spent without your nose to the grindstone was regarded as a goofing off. Conventional wisdom measured productivity in terms of the raw amount of time spent on a task. An increasing number of studies have put this line of thinking into question.

Dr. Eugenio Proto, along with two of his colleagues from the University of Warwick, found that employee happiness led to a 12 percent increase in productivity. “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality,” Dr. Proto notes. The findings of the study make sense when you consider that unhappy employees are far more likely to go through the motions without much effort. Complacency causes tasks to take longer, without an increase in quality. Time spent on a project isn’t the be-all end-all metric of productivity.

You don’t want a situation where yukking it up and goofing off takes precedence over important tasks. Conversely, if you create an environment where zero fun is tolerated, you’re going to deal with an immense amount of turnover.

How to Use Play Effectively

The quickest way to turn play into a chore is to make it mandatory. Companies that structure play on a regimented basis are missing the point entirely. Different employees will play in different ways. Some may take advantage of the video game console in your breakroom. Others might prefer fifteen minutes to draw during a break. The bottom line is that you have to account for varying personalities. As long as employees aren’t becoming a distraction to their co-workers or compromising their work, you should encourage them to have fun in their own ways.

Another facet of play is the “gamification” of work processes. When you gamify a process, you apply concepts from play to work. This could involve tracking sales volume with arcade-style scoring or providing badges to employees for specific actions taken. Gamification can offer immediate feedback for a job well done, but it should be undertaken carefully. The last thing you want is coworkers sabotaging each other in order to achieve a better score.

There’s No One Way to Integrate Play and Work

As with all aspects of company culture, it’s important to tailor fun to your company’s goals and values. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rulebook for what will work and what won’t. It may take some trial and error to figure out a system that suits your organization, but I can assure you that your employees will appreciate it if you take their happiness into account.

Work will always be work, but it doesn’t have to be a joyless experience. Allow your employees a little room to laugh and smile, and you might be surprised to see quality and productivity improve.