Work Hard, Play Hard: How Playfulness Can Make You More Productive at Work

There's a reason some of the biggest companies in the world have ping pong tables in the office. According to new research, having fun at work seriously pays off.


Does your working day feel like one long trudge? Working in a serious atmosphere can sometimes create stress, but scientists have discovered that showing our playful side can make a huge difference to how we approach our work and the levels of stress we experience.

Think about it: We like to see children and animals playing because it’s an important part of their development. But we’re often expected to give up such childish behavior when we become adults. However, this could be a mistake.

René Proyer, PhD, from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany has spent the last 12 years studying playfulness in adults. In his study to be published in the Personality and Individual Differences Journal (April 2017), Dr. Proyer identifies four basic types of adult playfulness:

  • Other-directed playfulness: Playing around with friends, family, and coworkers

  • Light-hearted playfulness: Regarding many aspects of life as a game

  • Intellectual playfulness: Playing with different thoughts and ideas

  • Whimsical playfulness: Interested in strange or unusual aspects of life, noticing small day-to-day occurrences

“When we think about being playful, we have to perhaps re-shape our thinking about what counts as play,”says Dr. Proyer. “Since we are far more intellectually developed than children, we can also play in different ways.” But it’s important not to confuse playfulness with having a sense of humor. Although there’s certainly an overlap, Dr. Proyer doesn’t believe the concepts can be used interchangeably.

How a Playful Attitude Can Help You

But the research shows that playfulness can have a positive effect on the work environment. Playful people are good at observing and can use playfulness to make monotonous tasks more interesting. They’re also good at approaching issues from varying perspectives, making them great at problem-solving and thinking outside the box.

Playful people can reduce stress for themselves and others around them. Taking a lighter approach can help people to worry less and relax more. Coworkers can use playfulness to break the tension in a fraught meeting or indulge in some good-natured teasing or banter to lift spirits after a tough day.

Of course, playfulness is not appropriate in every situation, and Dr. Proyer cautions against using at as a cure-all. “I don’t think that this is the recipe that works for all stress and for everyone. You have to know the boundaries and tact is very important.” In today’s pressured working environment, we can help manage our mental well-being by recognizing signs of stress, developing good sleep habits, and building positive relationships with colleagues.

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Elizabeth Manneh
Elizabeth Manneh is a freelance writer focusing mainly on healthcare, digital health & technology, and health & wellness. Her work has been featured on Readers Digest, MSN, AOL, The Family Handyman, and Paysa. A retired primary school principal and education consultant, Manneh has a continuing passion for education and learning. Visit her website: Elizabeth Manneh.