The rise of playfulness in the workplace 

Here, Adam Breeden explores the lengths company owners should go to to ensure a happy and productive workforce.

How many people genuinely enjoy their time at work? As a leader, manager or supervisor, is it up to you to ensure those you lead are happy? If you spot someone in the office that doesn’t seem to be at their peak, is there a danger that this can be an energy drain on the whole team?

Happiness is available in many forms, but a careful balance between work and non-work is absolutely key. Often, you see businesses grow and grow to a point where the bottom line becomes more important than the people that make up the very business in the first place. In order to retain talent, it is essential that businesses appeal to people’s fun side; the enlightening by-product of having fun is valuable sparks of creativity. That’s the thing innovative businesses thrive on and which no amount of money can obtain.

People love feeling active and being surrounded by energetic people, especially when they’re in the same environment for more than eight hours a day. Understandably, work can become dull and uninspiring at times. From my experience in running three social entertainment venues, happy and engaged staff push each other to contribute above and beyond their capabilities and is what increases productivity in the workplace. That feel-good buzz is infectious and spreads like wildfire.

So what types of activities should companies incorporate into their cultures?

Last year, an agency study commissioned by Bounce found that eight out of ten employees in Tech City believe that fun recreational activities in the workplace, including ping pong and pool, make for a happier and more productive workforce. However, two thirds of those surveyed (67 per cent) do not actually experience any of those perks. Ping pong was high among those ‘extra-curricular activities’ that millennial respondents wanted most to feature as part of their breaks.

In October 2015, Florian Kunze of the University of Konstanz in Germany studied 107 different businesses, including Google, YouTube and LEGO, looking into how playful design can help employees stay young at heart. He writes, ‘An organisation workforce that feels younger than their chronological age will benefit the performance of the company as a whole.’

More than ever, younger generations are defining the future of work and hunting for companies which offer recreational activities as part of their perks. Recent research also suggests that playful activities not only allow people to feel younger and achieve personal career goals, but even the option of being able to take part makes staff feel appreciated. Think about that.

Many companies have different approaches to how they provide recreational perks, including drinks company Innocent, property website Zoopla, and online retail giant Amazon. Despite their successes, these companies are not ones to rest on their laurels and continuously ensure that they remain one step ahead of the competition by keeping staff motivated. Articles such as this from psfk have been mooting this idea for a long time now.

The quirky HQ of Innocent, also known as Fruit Towers, is no stranger to fun working environments. A ground floor section called Chill Out, which houses a ping pong and a foosball table surrounded by park benches, provides an avenue for staff to break into a sweat and get the blood pumping, all while having a good time. By holding their Monday morning meetings in the area and offering free breakfasts and lunches, it’s no wonder staff feel motivated and energised.

The team at Innocent find that because colleagues spend most of their week at the office, the ping pong table allows them to stimulate the brain, to relax and to have fun in a community-like environment. Sometimes the game can turn fiercely competitive between the expert players though!

Zoopla, on the other hand, offers stadium-style seating which helps build a competitive and playful atmosphere to encourage interaction with other departments, while Amazon’s two ping pong tables improves team morale. It only goes to show that simulating a sense of playfulness has multiple benefits: it helps employees relax at work and cultivate relationships with those around them, as well as inspires creativity and drives productivity. At the end of the day, the more a company draws out the inner child in each member of staff, the more company performance flourishes as a result.

The new generation of workers – the millennials – tend to look for a collaborative work culture as opposed to a competitive one and want to be in an environment which will allow for work-life integration as opposed to work-life balance. It might seem counter-intuitive for a business to implement initiatives that impact short-term profitability but in the long term, these same initiatives encourage productivity and, more importantly, are necessary to attract the high calibre, engaged workforce that is critical for any progressive or dynamic business.​

Adam Breeden is founder of entertainment venues Bounce, Flight Club and All Star Lanes.

Further reading on office morale

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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