Bringing Play to the Workplace

We have been brought up to believe that play is the work of children. Playing as children was the way we discovered and made sense of our world. As we age, the amount of time we spend playing naturally decreases, and the amount of “real work” we take on increases. Adulthood requires us to adopt a serious demeanor that shows others that we are responsible. One of the main places we have to demonstrate responsibility is in the workplace, as our employers want to feel confident that employees aren't wasting time goofing off.  

Considering societal attitudes on the subject of play, it is understandable that there is not much research looking at play in adulthood. However, this topic has been generating a lot of discussion and interest. In his TEDTalk, Steve Keil, tells the audience about the importance of play in adulthood, and cites some of the literature claiming benefits such as improved decision-making (Panksepp, 1998), emotional regulation (Panksepp, 1998), and cognition (Brown, 1998) -all of which could be helpful tools in the workplace. You can access his TEDTalk here (begin at 7m 12s). 

As Kiel mentioned, many people will think that the idea of play in adulthood is absurd. It is hard to imagine a grown adult human sitting in a sandbox or climbing the monkey bars at his local playground, especially because adult humans are supposed to spend their days at work. By focusing so much on work, we might be neglecting the need for some playfulness in our lives.  I am not suggesting for workplaces to install giant playgrounds in their lobbies and start paying their employees for playing around. However, the idea of integrating some “play” at work is not entirely drastic. The National Institute for Play is a an organization that strives to make the public aware of the benefits of play using research. Large companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and YouTube have been known to create fun work environments-a quick Google image search of these workplaces can give you a good idea of how they begin to accomplish a “playful” workplace. They firmly stand behind the claim that their employees are happier and more productive. There is still a lot of work to be done before workplaces start adopting this attitude, but it might be an area worth exploring.

How to incorporate playfulness in your workplace: 

  • Be firm about breaks/lunches: make sure your employees take their breaks! Often times people work through lunch hour so that they can get as much as possible done, but in the end, not taking a break might be doing them and the company a disservice.
  • Provide opportunity for playfulness during breaks: think about laying some magazines, crossword puzzles, simple board games, etc. in the staff room. Very often during their lunches, workers continue to talk about work instead of getting their mind off of it for a much needed mental break.
  • Think about the physical environment: consider beanbags, posters/art, colour, and tasteful decorations. Walking into a workplace that looks warm/welcoming already does a lot to help someone feel at ease and have a positive start to his or her day. 
  • Healthy competition: competition between employees exists in every workplace, make it fun by offering simple/funny prizes for those employees who reach a sales goal or finish a project on time.

How would you feel about some playful changes being implemented at work? Do you think this would help or hinder productivity? What are some of the ways you implement a playful attitude at work?

Check out other workplace strategies to improve mental health here


Brown, S. (1998). Play as an organizing principle: clinical evidence and personal observations. Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives, 242-

Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. Oxford university press.