Work-related stress is a growing problem around the world and, in many cases, on the rise.
As part of a 2023 survey by the Harvard Business Review, 82% of respondents reported workplace stress is a problem at their organization. Feeling stressed at work can lower productivity and affect your relationship with your office, as well as lead to serious health consequences like headaches, chronic fatigue, and an increased risk for hypertension and diabetes.
So what’s a social-impact professional to do with all of this bad news? You can start by adding some playtime to your work day.
The research on play at work
Yes, you read it right: play. Perhaps this word conjures up images of ping pong tables in a Silicon Valley startup, ditching your cubicle early for a Friday happy hour with colleagues, or telling work-appropriate jokes between your meetings. Yes, yes, and yes. Research has shown that play, even small efforts at light-heartedness, can have several benefits:
- Play can mitigate the negative impacts of emotional exhaustion in high-stress jobs.
- Being able to take a quick, refreshing break in the midst of a task results in greater creative output and more ideas presented in a brainstorming session.
- Laughter is good for your heart and increases blood flow due to the release of dopamine in your body.
Clearly, having fun at work is a major asset in warding off stress and increasing your productivity at work. But there’s a catch.
Quick wins versus sustained impact
You might think keeping the team happy is pretty simple. Leave some snacks and drinks in the breakroom and it will transform the mood, right? Not so fast. Numerous studies have shown that what produces employee satisfaction (food, for example) is not the same as what produces employee engagement.
To reduce workplace stress, opt for engagement. Employees who identify as engaged at work experience improvements in their office environments, better interactions among co-workers, a better relationship with management, and positive feedback or encouragement. So instead of bringing in a box of donuts and hoping it will reduce your team’s stress, the better bet is to regularly gather everyone together (with the option to enjoy those treats over a good story and a hearty laugh).
Even small efforts have big rewards
But maybe you or your co-workers resist anything but solitary productivity between the hours of nine and five, or you feel so busy that you can’t fathom adding another responsibility—even play—to your list. In that case, there are still many simple ways to ensure that your workplace has some lighthearted moments every week. For example:
- To enhance connections, take a walking meeting, engage in a friendly competition, volunteer with your team, or use icebreakers and meeting openers centered on personal experiences and stories.
- Do simple things with your colleagues, like showing appreciation and celebrating birthdays, work anniversaries, and non-traditional holidays.
- Engage in everyday get-to-know-you conversations with a twist by changing up what you talk about at work.
And if you’re truly underwater and need to start small, focus on just yourself. How can you bring more levity to your work? You might take short breaks in the midst of a long task to restore your concentration ability. Watch a funny (short, work-appropriate) video, grab yourself a fresh cup of coffee, or try a short meditation practice.
By now, surely you’re ready to get out of your cubicle and go play a little bit. Set the right example and opt for activities that support connection and social bonds. You’ll reduce your stress, reap the positive health benefits, and make your workplace a better, happier place to be. You and your team are worth it.
Are you experiencing burnout in your work-from-home job? Use our tips for reducing stress levels and making the most of your remote set-up.