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The words “work” and “play” are generally seen as a dichotomous process. We work to perform, achieve a desired outcome, develop, grow and succeed, and we play to have fun, relax, enjoy life and pursue our hobbies. Work happens from Monday to Friday and play is an after-hours-weekend-private process. Western society have based their work ethic primarily on Protestant principles which say that work is serious, a structured activity and the pursuit of productive goals. The focus of work is entirely on outcomes and the end result. In contrast, play is about enjoyment, light-hearted fun, humour, and laughter and focuses on enjoyment rather than an outcome. Play is voluntary and fuelled by intrinsic rewards, whereas work is regarded as necessary and based on extrinsic rewards.

Is there time and space in our organisational settings to combine work and play?

The amount of playfulness that employees are allowed at work depends entirely on the company’s culture and norms. Companies may ask themselves whether play portrays a positive, reliable, and professional image to its customers or if it damages the brand, its reputation and integrity. Play and work happen naturally because employees will always bring their sense of humour to the office. The important question to ask is if this is overtly or covertly done and if jokes, teasing and pranks happen in the open or rather behind closed doors.

Companies should promote the use of play at work because there are major benefits:

Shared memories with people fosters a sense of “community” or “unity”. Staff will appreciate their colleagues, because if there is a fun element, they will bring all of themselves to work.

Remember that people work with the whole person and not just the working part of that person. Play is associated with a sense of learning, excitement and development. It stimulates an open mind that is eager to take in information and give feedback.

Play alleviates boredom and tension which is important when performing mundane work.

Play allows us to find new and revived energy for routine tasks. Play fosters creativity and innovative ideas. Many inspired ideas are birthed when we play around and have fun.

Play is not a waste of precious work time. It happens naturally at the office and leaders need to regard it as an important part of office life and tap into the positive benefits associated with it. Leaders need to let employees bring all of themselves to work because this will deepen their sense of meaning to their job.

Reflect on how much play time you allow at your office and how you can increase this a bit more. It needs to be said that the annual year-end function is not enough play time, neither is it regarded by employees as such. We need play to be a part of the working culture in our companies.