Why businesses should encourage employees to have fun at work


Fun at work – the power of play

Play. The mere mention of it often sends old-school management into a nervous frenzy. Maybe your mom or dad hold those same views, or maybe that management class you took in college taught you that the employee/manager relationship is totalitarian (with little to no emphasis on nurturing connections and creating a positive environment).

How often have you worked at a company that treated you like a work horse, or even worse, a number? How did it impact your performance in the long run?

For those of us who’ve been in the workforce for several years, we’ve had our fair share of draconian management. A few generations ago this would have been accepted as the social norm. Fortunately, over the last few years, studies have emerged to show that, contrary to traditional belief, unhappy employees are not only unproductive, but extremely detrimental to the success of modern businesses. Ohio University has an eye opening infographic stating that approximately $50 billion a year is stolen from companies by employees and 33% of business bankruptcies are caused by employee theft.

Let’s remember not to look at these findings in a negative light. Greatness can never be achieved without making a few mistakes along the way, and the same can be said of businesses, both small and large. What separates the crème de la crème is their ability to look at what they’ve done wrong and do everything in their power to fix it.

Perhaps you’re a business owner and you aren’t sure if you should change your policies in order to have happier employees, or maybe you’re an employee seeking an exciting and positive change in your career.

Either way, the focus of this article is to help you understand why we need play in our work and everyday lives, and how you can implement it into your policies or routines.


fun at work

Dr. Stuart Brown, the pioneer of play research

Inspiration for this subject came after reading Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, a book written by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown.  Dr. Brown started researching Play through in-depth observation of murderer profiles. He found a commonality among the killer’s childhood stories: lack of play. He then went on to interview thousands of individuals and saw that he had indeed found a pattern.

Success and play go hand-in-hand.

His findings didn’t stop there. He partnered with National Geographic Society and Jane Goodall and began observing animals in the wild. Dr. Brown realized that Mother Nature’s most sophisticated and intelligent animal species played beyond their early years and into adulthood, more so than their less intelligent counterparts.

If you’re interested in more information but don’t want to read his book, then feel free to watch his TED talk titled “Play is More Than Just Fun”.


Neurological benefits

In The Cognitive Benefits of Play: Effects on the Learning Brain, Dr. Gwen Dewar presents a list of compelling evidence for the power of play.

Play is believed to improve memory and stimulate the growth of the cerebral cortex. In a study done by Dr.  Marion C. Diamond of Berkeley, rats who were given toys had thicker cerebral cortexes than their toy-less counterparts and also had a significant burst of growth in brain cells. Not only did their brains grow bigger, but the rats who were raised with toys and stimulation appeared smarter and better at problem solving.

Play promotes creative problem solving.

An experiment involving preschoolers linked children’s ability to solve problems using a divergent methodology (multiple solutions) and their ability to play pretend.

The ability to regulate impulses, emotion, attention and the ability to reason counter factually are directly connected to one’s ability to play pretend. This could easily be implemented into a monthly training regimen, or maybe even done at home. Edgy, modern companies like Bare Minerals use this technique in their training, often implementing role playing during their on-boarding process and beyond.

In addition to the above mentioned skills, an understanding of mathematics is directly affected by play. In a research study done on preschoolers involving blocks, the children who played with blocks the most exhibited better math grades and a higher level of cognitive development involving mathematics.

People learn the most from play. It’s a form of practice, exploration and experimentation that allows us to understand ourselves and the world around us. Without it, our brains would cease to develop and grow at the pace they are meant to. Lack of play and creative freedom would slow down our productivity and cognitive abilities – not exactly something businesses want to happen when it comes to their employees.  

work and play

What the industry giants are doing

Companies that have caught on to the benefits of play are steadily becoming the most successful in their niche markets.

One of the best examples of an exemplary environment is the richly colored and artistic Google campus. Google takes care of its employees, from electric car charging stations, to organic gardens, and micro kitchens dotting nearly every corner of its offices (side note: Google’s employees get free breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked fresh for them each day).

Quicken Loans, with its fun and team-oriented work environment, is another one of those companies spoken highly of by its employees. Quicken Loans is a multibillion dollar online mortgage company and approximately 96% of its employees who were surveyed by Fortune Magazine, said they had the chance to have fun at work.

Employees at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have a multitude of benefits, including compressed work weeks, paid time off for volunteer work, an onsite fitness center, an onsite medical care facility and college tuition reimbursement.

These are just a few of an ever growing and expanding list of successful businesses who realize the importance of play and maintaining healthy, happy workers. Maybe you are an employer and your company can’t exactly afford to add an on-site gym or free meals for the day, but you can do small things here and there to add to the fun and creative environment. A simple policy change might be all you need.

If you are a business owner or manager, remember that your employees will be the ones who either make your business or break it.

You can have the best business model, the best product, or maybe even the sleekest website, but you can only go as far as your teammates and employees can take you.

What should job seekers pursue in a possible employer?

When you are looking at prospective employers, consider several important subjects that should factor into your decision:

  1. Do your research – don’t hesitate to look up what current and past employees are saying about the business. Sometimes they can clue you in on the positives and negatives of the company culture.
  1. What is their company culture like? Does it fit with your own set of beliefs and goals?
  1. Does the company do activities outside of work?
  1. Do they seem clearly engaged with their employees? Do employees have the freedom to go to management to talk about questions, concerns, suggestions or even ideas?
  1. Apart from the obvious benefits a good company will offer (paid time off, medical and dental coverage, maternity leave etc.), what are they doing to ensure they are meeting the needs of staff?
  1. Finally, is this a job that you can have fun with, or will it bore you to tears?

There are a lot of factors that play out in the decision making process, each of which should be carefully weighed and considered. As new studies and opportunities arise, the days of going to work and running on auto-pilot are almost behind us. Small and large businesses alike will either be left in the dust of their adversaries or prevail in an ever changing and evolving world market. Ethical, people-oriented companies like Google will only continue to grow because of their ability to cultivate creative problem solving and innovation.

Play is, and will forever remain, an important facet of human civilization and cognitive development.     

About the author

A.D. Vuittonet1A.D. Vuittonet has ghost written e-books for businesses and her first book series is in the works. Her experience with international business began when she worked at a cosmetic company in Salt Lake City where she was promoted to an executive level in the sales and marketing department. After that, she managed a small business and began freelance writing on the side. Now she enjoys writing full time, living off of ungodly amounts of coffee and navigating the beautiful landscape the Northwest has to offer.    

If you have any inquiries, please feel free to email her at a.d.vuittonet@gmail.com and she will get back to you as soon as possible.