Play at work

In a ‘Spoonful of Sugar’, Mary Poppins sang how “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”  But I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of this when I sat down to watch a programme about a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Yet as I watched a recent episode of BBC Four’s Beautiful Minds, I learned that having a playful approach to his research helped Professor Andre Geim invent gecko tape (which one day may allow humans to scale ceilings spider-man-style), levitate frogs (to demonstrate diamagnetism), and uncover the properties of the world’s thinnest material, graphene (which could be used to make bendy touch screens).

As well as making tasks more interesting or pleasant and fostering innovation, play helps us bond with others, helps us learn, and encourages work engagement.  Why this is so can be explained by Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s ‘broaden-and-build’ theory which posits that positive emotions expand our ability to think and act, making us more willing to generate new ideas, experiment, try new things out, and behave pro-socially, and that when we do so, we build personal resources such as optimism, self-efficacy and perseverance, which in turn makes us more willing to generate new ideas and so on.

So if you want a more creative, supportive, ‘can-do’ workforce don’t just consider that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” but having fun has seriously good consequences.   If you’re ready to play contact gill@unisonmedia.co.uk.



Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Palmer P. (18 April 2012). Beautiful Minds Series 2 Professor Andre Geim. UK. BBC.  Retrieved 21 April 2012 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01g99j3/Beautiful_Minds_Series_2_Professor_Andre_Geim/

Salanova, M., Schaufeli, W.B., Xanthopoulou, D., & Bakker, A.B. (2010).  The gain spiral of resources and work engagement: Sustaining a positive worklife. In Bakker, A.B., & Leiter, M.P. (Eds.) Work engagement: a handbook of essential theory and research, (pp118-131).  Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press

Sørensen, B.M., & Sverre, S. (2012). Play at work: continuation, intervention and usurpation.  Organization, 19, 81-97.

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