How to bring playtime to your work (without getting fired)

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ wrote Jack Torrance in The Shining, over and over again until he went mad and ended up as a frozen corpse in the Colorado snow.

An absence of fun in the workplace is unlikely to make you go the full Jack Nicholson, but if you don’t make time for play during your 9 to 5, you could be missing out on more than fun.

Bringing playtime to work can make you an all-round better person, say experts.

We’re hard-wired to play – it’s intrinsic to our evolution as complex human beings, helping us develop physically, cognitively and emotionally.

The National Institute for Play in California states that 30 years of scientific research has revealed play to be extremely productive for humans at any age. Beyond childhood it helps our brains stay flexible, keeps depression at bay and sharpens our social-emotional skills.

Despite this, us adults tend to see play as the opposite of work. It’s often not purpose-driven but purely for fun – something for leisure time only. But with work filling most of our waking hours, that leaves us with a very play-deficient existence.

If you’re reading this from your tech start-up office, with its basketball hoops and pool tables, then you probably don’t recognise this problem. But we can’t all be a Google employee and visit the accounts department via an enormous slide (yes, these actually exist).

In a regular job, is it appropriate to be playful? And how can we play at work without irritating our colleagues or, even worse, getting the sack?

In her new book Why We Play: How To Find Joy And Meaning In Everyday Life (which you might want to leave on your manager’s desk), psychotherapist Joanna Fortune describes how practising play at work can be transformative.

‘As committed professionals, a decreased play drive might benefit us initially as we focus on career progression,’ she tells ‘But if we push playfulness aside for a prolonged period of time we begin to feel flat, lose our spark and our engagement level drops across all areas of our lives, including work.’

To reignite our work mojo we need to tap into our playful side and remember what we enjoyed doing as children.

Joanna explains: ‘Work is often understood as being the opposite of play, but this is a misunderstanding. The work we find most satisfying and fulfilling tends to be an extension of an activity we enjoyed during our earlier lives.’

But if you loved potato printing as a kid and ended up as a data analyst rather than a graphic designer, playing at work isn’t for you, right? Not so, says Joanna. Just stay curious.

‘A curious mind is a playful mind, and play fuels creativity – a commodity in the workplace, no matter what line of business we’re in,’ she tells us. ‘Play can also enhance productivity and create a more flexible and adaptable mind – all of which are essential skills for a productive work life.’

With play inevitably comes laughter. A wealth of research backs claims that a good belly laugh can have a powerful effect on our physical health and mental wellbeing. The use of laughter in groups is particularly successful due to its contagious nature – we’re 30 times more likely to laugh with others than on our own.

Lotte Mikkelsen, laughter yoga master trainer at UnitedMind, helps corporate clients harness the power of play and laughter through her workshops. This benefits not just individual employees, but whole team dynamics.

‘When we laugh, not only do we release endorphins but a whole ‘joy cocktail’ which we distribute around our body,’ she explains. ‘One of the chemicals released is oxytocin, our love hormone.

‘This helps us feel bonded with the people we laugh with, and when we laugh together it’s so much easier to work together too. We become more likeable and approachable as laughter connects us. The connections we make are deeper and based on love and kindness instead of ego and judgment.’

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