When we were kids, our job was to play.  And for those of us “of a certain age”, that usually meant outside, with sticks, bats, dirt, etc.  I won’t make the case as to the quality of play during those days over the more digital play of today, but our job was to grow and we did that by playing.  We learned about sharing, teamwork, creativity, fairness and level setting,problem solving and quite a bit of PR when it came time to explain things to our parents.  There may have been no small measure of obfuscation now that I remember some of the larger mistakes I learned from while playing in the neighborhood.  There were no arranged playdates, you just left your yard and headed around the corner to see what was happening down the block. 

At some point, we are convinced by our educators, relatives, managers, and newly discovered persons of interest that it was time to stop playing and get serious.  Study hard, do your homework, work your afterschool job, figure out your life, choose your future, seek your fortune and buy into the American dream, which requires no small amount of coin. 

We forget about play and the valuable interpersonal lessons it brings.  With family it bonds the members together and reinforces the lessons learned in our own childhood in a way that “Call of Duty” or “Fortnite” can’t.  That finishing in a position other than first is not terrible, but in fact an opportunity to get better or even help fine-tune what it is we are good at doing.  Rather than the “everyone is a winner” ethos, the lesson is better as, “losing is not so bad, what will you do effect the outcome next time?”

As importantly we should continue to be playful in the workplace.  This means we can interact with our colleagues, bosses and direct reports in away that creates teamwork not for the sake of the organization, but for the sake of those who make the organization successful.  We can laugh and learn from our own missteps, while helping when (and hopefully laughing with)others make theirs.  Sure, there may be an office bowling event or softball team, but I’m talking about every day.  This is the playfulness that HRdepartment can get behind.  It does not come at the cost of any one individual but adds to the happiness of all.

Playfulness at work is work.  It should be both spontaneous and purposeful.Small smiles are still smiles.  One moment of laughter can overthrow a lengthy call with a recalcitrant client or an endless meeting with a weak agenda.

I was once “redirected” by our CEO for being too serious.  I read books on having fun at work (they weren’t fun) and found that the only time I really was too serious was when I was thinking about how not to be.  Nevertheless,the “redirect” worked, as it encouraged me to be more patient and understanding with reasonable mistakes, and find ways to laugh, together, at the foibles of being human. 

When our daughter was little, she was very sensitive about people laughing“at” her.  This was often directed at her parents when we chuckled about some action or another.  We created a saying to encourage her to laugh at some of the things she did too.  “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you-at you”, allowed her to join in the moment of being OK with being human.  And yes, she turned that phrase loose on us right back and still does to this day as an adult.  Mistakes can be funny, and laughing is better than crying. 

So be playful.  Use the time currently used by being frustrated, or irritable and you will find the entire team becomes not just happier, but more productive too.

Written by: John Exline