How much play time do you have as an adult?
Yep, you read that question right.
And we are not talking about how much time you spend in front of the television or computer. Or having a glass of wine or two when you get home from work. Those may be activities you enjoy, but they are not “play”.
The value of play for adults is when you forget about work, family obligations, and all other commitments and you are social in an unstructured, creative way.
Ok, so now we’ve defined adult play. Let’s get back the original question. How much play time do you have in your life?
If you have to think too long, then that probably a sign that it is not enough.
The truth is, some time between being a kid and adulthood, you probably lost your zest for play. It’s the same for most adults.
We can probably attribute it to societal expectations to be “responsible”, get a good job, have a career and a family, both of which come with a ton of obligations (and happiness too).
But who says the two must be mutually exclusive?
Why is most adult leisure limited to time spent on activities like happy hour or being entertained by a movie, concert or television show?
Everyone deserves to play, children and adults alike.
But if you actually need an excuse to play more as an adult, then we’ve got 5 whoppers for you! Read on!
Benefits of Adult Play.
When you play as an adult, you can:
1.Increase Brain Power
Adult play supports brain development. There is increased connectivity, particularly in the frontal lobe which is the part of the brain used for planning and good decision making.
Fun play releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. Endorphins usually generate a feeling of euphoria too – like “riding a high”.
Free play presents an opportunity to think differently and allow ideas to flow without censorship.
Just think back to when you played as a child and how much joy you got from exercising your imagination.
Similarly, adult play sparks creativity that can be applied in the moment for fun as well as to other situations to help you solve problems or adapt to change.
Play can increase your energy levels, positively impacting your physical and mental health.
5.Build better relationships
Play can often be a “safe” outlet for being yourself and using humor to connect with others.
The experience of play as an adult usually provides the opportunity to bond and form deeper connections, while creating memories. Feeling more connected can lead to better communication, a higher level of commitment, and quicker conflict resolution.
The bottom line is that play can benefit you, your relationships, and your mood.
The Value of Play For Adults at Work.
Play at work is not a new concept.
And it comes in all shapes and sizes.
Whether it is an icebreaker at a project meeting, an annual team building activity, bringing yoga classes onsite, having intramural leagues or setting up a game room with fooseball, airhockey and the like – these are all common examples of companies attempting to foster “play” amongst employees.
Some organizations have successfully made play part of their culture.
But even when that is not the case, as a leader you can make it one of your team values.
Not only would it make work enjoyable for you and the team, but it can also help you reach your team objectives. The research is clear that there is a strong link between fun and work productivity.
The value of play for adults at work include:
- Better relationships with co-workers
- Increased focus and productivity
- High level of engagement and organization commitment
- Better and more creative problem solving
- Ability to deal with work stress more effectively
- Positive attitude and contributions to the work environment
What Leaders Can Do To Foster Play At Work and Increase Productivity.
With the value of play for adults so evident, including how it can positively impact the workplace, people managers and leaders should seek opportunities to integrate it into their leadership toolbox.
A few easy ways leaders can foster play at work are to:
Integrate humor and fun into your leadership style. This will set the tone for the team and they will respond in kind.
Many leaders we’ve coached are initially hesitant about “letting their hair down” with their teams.
They are usually concerned that if they joke around with employees, their authority will be undermined.
But if you are confident as a leader and establish the right team culture, you should be able to authentically show your team many different facets of your personality which will only increase their respect and accountability.
2.Establish a Regular Cadence for Dedicated Team Fun
In addition to integrating fun and humor into day to day operations, regularly setting aside dedicated time just for play and no work is a good practice.
This could be a weekly or monthly group activity. In the past we’ve done things like “game day”, “coffee chats”, or “volunteer days” with our team.
Your team culture should ultimately dictate what and how often your team play activity occurs.
Honestly, some of the most fun times we’ve ever had with our teams, remote or in-person, have been totally unstructured. Where not much planning occurred and we set aside 60-90 minutes to just share space, time and stories.
We usually only set one rule for everyone – “Absolutely no work talk”.
The time is supposed to be dedicated to us as people, not employees – so work talk is off the table.
3.Reward creative problem solving
If you want your team to think outside of the box and come up with unique ideas and solutions, make sure to reward unique solutions and the path to get there.
For example, one time one of our customers wanted to do something unique as part of her team’s performance review process.
Mind you, this customer lead a team of over 1K employees within a 40K employee organization. And she wanted to make some unusual changes to the performance review process which were not in alignment with the company culture nor could it be supported by the performance review technology that was in place.
So, after a bit more inquiry to get to the bottom of what exactly she was trying to accomplish, we asked the team to see if they could come up with a solution that would help the leader but not compromise the company’s existing infrastructure and review process.
To give the team full permission to be creative (and to make it fun), we did a few things:
- Paired them up with each other for brainstorming sessions
- Granted permission to push back a few other project deadlines so they were free to think and experiment
- Turned it into a contest and the “winning” team would receive a) bragging rights for the week, b) a written shout out in my email signature for a day with visibility to both internal and external stakeholders, and c) two books (see below) that I already had on my bookshelf.
This no cost permission to the team to get extra creative, resulted in a solution that met the needs of the executive without compromising the overall performance review process.
The team got to be creative and “play” – the client’s problem was solved – It was a WIN!
From that day forward, the executive sang our team’s praises every time she had the opportunity.
She became our biggest advocate across the organization and paved the way for us to get so much more business there and with new clients.
It would have been easy to say no when she first made her request, but allowing the team the space to play and be creative saved the day.
There are a lot of great things about being adults, for sure.
But one thing that is missing for most is the space, ability, and permission to play.
The value of play for adults is no longer in question (as we already outlined). Now you just have to make it happen. For both you and your team!
So, why are you still reading this?
Think broader. Be better. Leader bolder. And PLAY!
This is the 3rd article in our Mental Health & The Workplace Series.