Playing in the Dirt - Why Not in the Office?

A towering yellow excavator dug into packed dirt and placed it into the back of a dump truck.  As the truck backed up, it let out a loud, "BEEP... BEEP... BEEP..." and forced an awkward explanation to my co-workers on the other end of the conference call.  I'd spend a good part of my afternoon that day watching the construction site outside of my office. All the while, reminiscing about when I was a kid playing with my trucks and action figures in the dirt.

Kids do it all the time, why can't we? Adults who play are shown to be more productive, creative, and innovative at work than those who do not. But, is it possible - can we really play while we're also working?   I believe so, however, there are a few conditions that HR professionals must promote in an organization's culture and general approach to work to make it happen.

For example, for play to occur at all, an employee must first have time. If the deadline for a project is later the same day, you will likely pull from the normal way of doing things or ideas that you already know have worked in the past.  In this situation, you have no time to experiment or play around with new ways to complete the task. Removing the pressure of a looming deadline, individuals have the flexibility to play by testing out a variety of different solutions for the problem at hand. Strategic staffing strategies and capacity models may help create this free time for play.

Another condition is simply having the freedom to fail, so that individuals can take risks within their work. In other words, organizations must allow employees to get a little dirty.  Being engaged in play allows you to let down some of the psychological barriers that people tend to set as a natural defense to failure.  Breaking down these barriers allows innovative ideas to flow more freely.  A performance management philosophy that rewards creative risk taking may help create a safe environment for this condition to be met.

I present to you a quick challenge. Think of an innovative way to bring play back into your day-to-day. It might be as simple as introducing a silly icebreaker into your team's department meeting tomorrow morning or it could be as complex as creating a plan to introduce gamification into your organization's recruiting process.  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below or with me on Twitter @CrossoverHR

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: