4 Things "Bring Your Child to Work Day" Can Teach Us About The Power of Play in the Workplace


Today, over 37 million workers in over 3.5 million offices across the country are taking part in  Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Founded by Gloria Steinem, the program was originally created in response to research that found many girls lacked confidence and were dropping out of school by the eighth grade.  

While this one special day injects a much needed element of levity into the office and breaks up the monotony of the normal work week, there are some powerful lessons we can take from it. As parents, we spend so much time teaching our children that we often forget that we can actually learn from them. That’s become evident to me over the last few years as my daughter has grown into an adult and provided me a great deal of advice that has helped me shape my business.

However, I think we can learn from our children well before they grow up. Take a look at what your child is doing as you read this. Perhaps they’re building with a set of Legos you brought to the office to occupy them, or maybe they’re imagining new worlds with action figures under your desk. What can this teach us you ask? The power of play.

Here’s a deeper look at how play can transform how we approach work, engage with our co-workers and build successful teams:

Creating Engagement by Doing

According to a recent Gallup poll, 49.5% of employees are "not engaged" in their current workplace and 16.5% are "actively disengaged." Furthermore, 85% of the more than 7,300 surveyed global executives and HR leaders in Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends study reported that employee engagement was “very important” or “important.” Clearly something isn’t working here.

One of the simplest ways to feel engaged is through action – by actually doing things. Research shows that when people just sit and listen to a teacher, they retain only 20% of what they hear. But participants involved in active learning (physically doing something, a simulation, a training game, etc.) retain 90% of the information.

Give your employees an opportunity to feel engaged on a daily basis by looking for ways to harness their strengths and show them that you value them. Invite them to brainstorms, ask for their ideas and give them projects outside of their normal responsibilities. You can also organize team-building activities like Escape Games where each member has to engage in order for the team as a whole to succeed.

It’s also a good idea to measure your “engagement by doing” approach. But instead of defaulting to the dull engagement survey approach, you can really lean into the “doing” an assess through interviews and focus groups that will give you more meaningful and actionable feedback.

Playful Competition & Rewards

A lot has been written about the changes trophy kids have brought to the workplace. Without getting into a debate on the topic, I think it’s safe to say that many workplaces have struggled with how to recognize and reward a new generation of workers.

Instead of presenting participation awards to everyone on your team, encourage playful competition to spark recognition. Hold brainstorms and things like trivia night that reward individuals for taking risks and thinking outside of the box.

When it comes to acknowledging personal and professional milestones, I’m a fan of celebrating those moments as a team. Rather than having the boss awkwardly sing the praises of someone that has done great work or earned a promotion, I think it’s best to have co-workers recognize each other’s accomplishments.

And what about rewards? Stickers aren’t quite what they used to be and bonuses are boring (and expensive). Try amping things up with small, but fun, rewards like a free month’s subscription to Netflix or Spotify, or a “snow day” that they have to take!

Gaming Stress Levels

80% of employees report being stressed out by work and 68% say they’re suffering from work overload. Stress is a natural part of life and isn’t always an indicator that you are in the wrong environment. Your employees may love their jobs even though they find themselves feeling stressed at times.

The problem arises when you don’t do anything to help your employees manage that stress. One of the best ways to eliminate work stress is by eliminating work stress - duh! Get your teams out of the office on a nice day for an interactive scavenger hunt, or wrangle them for a day of building bikes for charity. This is sure to boost optimism and help your team recharge.

And don’t forget to provide support for them when their stress levels reach all-time highs. SHRM’s 2015 Employe Benefits Research Report found that only 22% of organizations allow employees to bring their children to work in a child care emergency. We can do better supporting fellow employees in times of need, just as we can do better with engaging them in times of joy.

Creating Time for Firsts

Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text Principles of Psychology, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events.

When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

Ever wonder how a busy week of work flies by and when someone asks you on a Friday night or a weekend what you’ve been up to you have nothing memorable to say? Our workplace and tasks become monotonous, which cause our weeks, months and years to blur within our minds.

So how do we bring back that childlike state? Forward thinking companies like Google are trying to slow down time in some pretty unique ways. They give employees 20% of their on-the-clock time to work on side projects of their choosing that allow them to explore something new everyday - just like a child does. That’s not bad business as 53% of millennials say learning new things or having access to professional development opportunities would encourage them to stay at their job.

Any company can inject “firsts” into daily routines, even if it’s just incrementally in mixing-up how you run meetings or planning an offsite. You can even challenge your employees and colleagues do one new thing at work everyday.

Try and harness the power of play in your organization - I think you’ll be surprised at just how transformative it can be.


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