Creating a Red Rubber Ball Moment in the Workplace

Have you ever had a red rubber ball moment?  Kevin Carroll, author of the Red Rubber Ball Book Series describes these as when play transform even tense, high-stakes moments into pure fun and result in deep connections formed that can last a lifetime.

My first experience in a post-college and professional environment was while working for Target Corporation as part of the company’s store management team in an HR capacity.  My official title was Executive Team Leader of Team Relations or ETL-TR for short.  While I worked exhausting hours and two to three weekends a month, I regularly visited the store on my day’s off to spend time with my co-workers over breakfast, dinner, or just checking in.  Even over ten years later, many of my fellow managers remain my friends, and our secret store handshake remains a secret to this day.  We have a red rubber ball moment nearly every single day.

For animals, play often ends when animals become adults.  Humans however are different.  They are designed to play throughout their lifespan.  It’s what drives our dreams, productivity, and our desires.

Imagine a world without vacations, sports cars., college football and tailgating or even creative hobbies like painting and photography.  Bottom line is that you can’t.  Life would be empty and bleak because without creativity as humans, we aren’t truly whole.

And that’s the exact problem with most workplaces today.

Forty years worth of research by Stewart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and founder of the Carmel Valley National Institute of Play found that some of the highest achievers in business, science, and arts have incorporated the concept of play into an important part of their lives including business.

Play is such an integral part in the success of adults that he believes the opposite of play is not work.  It’s depression.

And I tend to agree.

Imagine just for a moment the worst job you ever had.  I’m positive you counted the minutes, possibly seconds until your shift ended.  You made a b-line for the door, and when you left you felt no remorse when you tunred in your resignation.  And that’s if you even gave notice.  And maybe you told your friends and family the job sucked your soul.  And quite possibly you were right.   It lacked fun.  Maybe no one gave a damn.  There was no play.

The difference between an engaged and disengaged workforce in most situations should be based on a company culture’s level of play within the workplace.  Disengagement should be seen as a level of interest, a feeling, much like being in love.  For your workforce you’re either in love with your employer or you’re not.  Adding the concept of play and encouraging this environment within your company culture or department aids in fostering employee engagement.  For your company, play is a leading cause and result of falling in love.  It’s the foundation of what Tony Hsieh talks about when he describes the culture at Zappos.  Employees are free to be themselves and are encouraged to play at work.  Making for an environment that has a lasting impact on not only their employees but also the customers in which they delight.  Because if playing was easy, Delivering Happiness wouldn’t be a best selling book.

How are you encouraging red rubber ball moments in your office?  And how do you measure play’s benefits?

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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