I was fortunate to begin my career with a company that really lived into the mantra, “work hard, play hard.” We used employee meetings to celebrate accomplishments, we threw parties to mark successful projects, invited family to annual picnics and frequent open houses, and encouraged people to decorate for nearly every holiday – with Halloween as a peak over-the-top party day.
Did productivity suffer? Sometimes…but stay with me for a moment. We always received more than we lost, because play time built more capacity for the Real Work of the organization.
The leaders who were my role models at the time realized something important: commitment is a choice. When you regularly invite people into fun and celebration – a relatively easy choice for most – you create a space for them to flex their commitment “muscles.”
- When the focus later turns to hard work, challenging projects, and disruptive change, people find it easier to say Yes because their Yes “muscle” is fairly strong and tuned in to the organization.
- When you ask people to work in teams, it’s no big deal because they are so used to working together from building sets for Halloween or creating a strategy to win the lunch time games tournament.
- When you need to tap the creativity of your workforce, they are already skilled at generating wild ideas from when they were working on the last Pajamas Day and making tough budget decisions for the employee activities committee.
If you’re a smart leader, you will create the space for Play and fun in the workplace, with an eye toward using play to nurture the skills that are useful elsewhere in the business: team work, conversation, creativity, decision-making, collaborating across levels and organizational boundaries… and commitment.
Play is not a waste or expense. It is an investment with a huge ROI.
Remember, Leadership is not about a title: Anyone can be a leader who allows people to bring their whole self to work and have fun on the job while building the skills to win.