Got Recess? The Importance of Play at Work
I remember dodgeball – and I remember I didn’t like it much. Lined up with other “victims”, a brick wall at our backs, as other preteen kids tried to pelt us with “soft” rubber balls. So, when the idea of having morning recess at work was floated and I was assured there would be no dodgeball, I was still skeptical – I mean what were we supposed to DO with that time? The answer of course is to play.
Play matters and is good for us at every stage of life. Play has the power to:
Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Improve brain function. Playing board games, completing puzzles, or pursuing other activities that challenge the brain can improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family, friends and coworkers can also help ward off stress and depression.
Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Children often learn best through play and that principle applies to adults as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.
Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion and trust with others. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
Benefits to the organization
Recess is a time to play and let go – to reenergize our minds and our bodies in a way that can lead to more creativity and innovation. It helps to keep you functional when under stress, prevent burnout, see problems in new ways and encourage teamwork. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, “when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale.”
One organization I know sets aside mandatory time for recess, every day. They even have a bell that signifies recess time. While that approach may not be right for every organization, normalizing play as acceptable and encouraged in your work environment can reap many benefits.
Not all activities will appeal to all people, so it is important to have a variety of activities to match a variety of interests. According to research by Marian Diamond published by the National Institutes of Health, finding ways to enrich (i.e. make playful) environments in ways that are meaningful to the individual powerfully shapes the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain associated with the most complex cognitive processing. Here are some popular activities you might try:
- Paper airplane contest
- 5 minutes of yoga
- Simon Says
- Build card houses
- Keep puzzles out and available
So, ring that recess bell! And leave the dodgeballs at home.