“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

I believe it is time that we got serious about bringing play into the workplace. The idea will undoubtedly make some old school management types bristle. For many of us play is seen as the opposite of work as it is looked at as something we do in our free time, a hobby, a form of rest and relaxation. However, there are compelling arguments that play and work can coexist quite nicely and that incorporating play into our working environment actually has quite a few benefits that can make our working time more relaxing, pleasurable and to the chagrin of the old school types, more productive. Donald Schon, organizational learning theorist argued that role play was able to generate radically new ways of understanding. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that playing through scenarios helps make decision making faster and better. Playworks https://www.playworks.org/ helps children develop healthy emotional and social skills through play.  As well as working with children Playworks helps companies to incorporate play at work. One of their suggestions is that “One or two people take responsibility for leading a game, something easy to play that everyone can join. The goal is inclusion, to remind everyone that we all are working toward the same goals, that we all have talents to bring to the work.” Progressive organizations like Google, LinkedIn and Ideo have for some time recognized the benefits that play brings to their companies and have incorporated play activities into their work environment. Southwest Airlines encourage their employees to have fun and let their personalities shine when interacting with their customers.

Here are 5 compelling reasons that organizations need to get serious about play at work.

Reduces workplace stress

By taking minds off upcoming deadlines and the many other stressors that are common to every workplace, play acts as a release valve, allowing employees to let off unwanted stress. This allows them to go back to their duties refreshed and energized. It is well recognized that it is healthy to take regular breaks from intensive activities to allow us to recharge. Throwing play and fun activities into the mix further helps us to decompress and recharge.

Increases teamwork

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Doing a playful activity as a team for when outcomes don’t really matter is a strong reminder of the value of teamwork when outcomes are important in the work that we do. It helps everyone focus on and appreciate the inputs of the others and reminds us that there is only so much we can do on our own and that to be successful we need to work together towards a common goal.

Better relate to other people

As Plato stated, play can teach us a great deal about other people. Interacting with them in a fun, stress free environment encourages more openness and sharing amongst staff. This in turn builds bridges and bonds which carry over into the work we are doing. Play allows staff to put to the side for a brief period all the defenses that are put up at work and let their guard down gives everyone insight into areas of that may not come out during regular working time. This allows staff to better understand and relate to each other and builds bridges between different levels of authority at work.

Builds emotional intelligence

Play allows people to express, share and manage emotions in a way that they may not feel they are able to during the regular course of a working day. Interacting with others in a playful environment can allow people the opportunity to try out new ways of expressing themselves and learn more about themselves and the people they work with. Play allows us to share emotions that would normally lie under the surface in the seriousness in the workplace and gives us the opportunity to find safe ways of expressing feelings. It allows employees to check out new ways of interacting in a safe, non- threatening environment.

Build leadership skills

Play is an excellent and safe way that people that are so inclined can step out of their comfort zones and try on new leadership skills. Leading a fun activity allows us to get a feel for leadership without the demands that it typically brings with it. Allowing everyone opportunities to take the lead in a natural play activity can allow leadership potential that may otherwise have remained dormant to come to the surface. It allows people to push their boundaries in a safe and non-threatening environment and leaves them to get a better understanding of where they fit into the organization and whether they want to go from there.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.