Do you play at work? Turns out that those who do are tapping into a potential they may not have known existed. The concept of a play mindset is gaining traction as a transformative strategy for fostering innovation, resilience, and a sense of purpose within organizations. This approach, once considered unorthodox, is now recognized for a range of benefits, from enhancing employee engagement to driving creativity and innovation.
What Is the Play Mindset?
At its core, the play mindset is about infusing work with elements traditionally associated with play: creativity, experimentation, and fun. This philosophy challenges the conventional divide between work and play, pushing toward a blend of the two that cultivates an engaging, innovative, and flexible work environment.
The shift towards a play mindset reflects a deeper understanding of human motivation and the dynamics of modern work cultures. It's based on the idea that employees should be encouraged to explore and experiment in a low-stakes, playful manner. In this environment, they are more likely to discover creative solutions, feel more connected to their work, and contribute to a thriving organizational culture.
“Play doesn’t mean trivializing an important issue; it’s an invitation to approach things with a mindset that values curiosity and flexibility,” says Andy Miller, CEO of non-alcoholic beer company Heaps Normal. “Being a play-led business means experimenting, embracing the values of your community, and stretching outside your core business.” This can lead to a better connection with customers and employees, as well as fostering innovative problem-solving.
The Business Case for Play
Integrating play into the workplace offers a multitude of benefits, addressing several contemporary business challenges. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, “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.”
A playful approach to work enhances employee engagement and resilience. Studies have shown that play is intrinsically motivating, leading to higher levels of satisfaction, better stress management, and a more vibrant work atmosphere. When employees are genuinely engaged and enjoy their work, they are less likely to experience burnout, resulting in lower absenteeism and healthcare costs.
Play has also been identified as a catalyst for innovation. It facilitates cognitive processes essential for creative problem-solving, such as divergent thinking and the ability to evaluate alternative solutions.
In fact, Research by Professor Babis Mainemelis and Dr Sarah Ronson found that play was a key workplace element in some of the most successful companies in the 21st century, including Apple, 3M, Google, and Pixar. They noted that these companies “crafted an organizational culture that nurtures play, to the benefit of both their employees and their clients.” These organizations demonstrate that play is not merely a leisure activity but a critical component of their competitive advantage.
Google's policy of allowing engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects not directly related to their main job functions has spurred the development of some of its most innovative and successful products. This "playtime" is a testament to the potential unleashed when employees are given the freedom to explore new ideas without the pressure of immediate profitability.
The Science of Play
The efficacy of the play mindset is grounded in a robust body of research. Studies have highlighted play's role in building more resilient and engaged workforces, where play is linked to joy, interest, and inherent satisfaction.
Dr. Brown emphasized, “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.” Organizations that encourage play are not only fostering a more energized work environment but are also driving innovation through improved cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills.
Washington State University researcher Jaak Panksepp explained that “play activates the whole neocortex ... and we found that of the 1,200 genes that were measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.” This indicates that even short breaks for fun may greatly increase productivity and brainpower.
The integration of a play mindset within business operations represents a paradigm shift towards a more dynamic, engaging, and innovative approach to work. Challenging traditional notions of work and productivity, the play mindset fosters an environment where creativity, resilience, and purpose thrive — potentially leading to groundbreaking solutions. By breaking down the barriers between work and play, companies can unlock the full potential of their employees, drive meaningful innovation, and create a competitive edge in today's fast-paced business world.