Back in 2019, an Australian named Thom Evans sent an email to the concierge at a hotel he was set to soon check-in at for an upcoming business meeting and here's what the email said:
I'll be staying two nights with you from Thursday 31/10 to Saturday 2/11 and was wondering if I could ask a favor?
It may seem a little strange, but can you please hide an apple somewhere in my room for me to find? I travel often, and these small games help take my mind off work and lower my stress levels.
The type of apple doesn't concern me as I enjoy them all. I did have a 'Papple' recently that I didn't quite care for- I believe it was a pear/apple hybrid...Anyway, I digress- a Granny Smith always satisfies.
In response, the hotel left him a handwritten note saying they had not only hid one apple, but multiple ones. Thom searched high and low and found 5 apples hidden in his room, much to his (and likely the hotel staff's) delight.
This odd request wasn't actually his first.
Other requests included a hand-drawn portrait of "what you think I look like" at one hotel and a photo of an Australian cricketer/television personality at another—both to be placed on his pillow.
Aside from being pretty hilarious, it also reminded me of the importance of fun and play at work.
This is something many of us have had a hard time focusing on lately whether it is due to logistical challenges (i.e., teams no longer being physically together), not prioritizing it, or, as often the case, undervaluing its impact at work.
Yet, over and over again, we are hearing the same cry from leaders and managers we work with:
"How do I get my team feeling motivated and excited again?"
And this isn't just anecdotal. HR Service provider Morneau Shepell has been tracking mental health at work and one of its most recent survey showed that 40% of employees are feeling less motivated at work.
Motivation at work is a theme we will continue to explore over the next few months, as it's a big topic and on a lot of people's radar, but let's go back to counting apples and focusing on fun and play at work.
Or maybe just a little bit of a "people are paid to work, not to play" mentality sneaking into your head right now? Maybe? Just a teensy bit?
I get it. You need receipts.
Here are a few. Encouraging and integrating more play and fun into your work environment can have these positive effects:
Less stress, burnout and fatigue
Increased engagement, job satisfaction, creativity, and sense of accomplishment
Higher levels of involvement and time spent on tasks
Increased team trust, collaboration, and bonding
Higher levels of employee commitment and a more positive work culture
There you have it. It's time to play!
Okay, okay, we know it's not all fun and games, but we can be more intentional and focused on incorporating play to capture the positive effects. Here are a few ways:
Find Your Inner Child
Humor me with another quick example.
One of my favorite shows on TV right now is Ted Lasso. If you haven't watched it, just stop reading this and go start watching it (and then send me a note thanking me once you've raced through the first season). In one of the recent episodes (don't worry, no major spoilers here), the captain is going through a slump and one of the coaches takes him back to his childhood neighbourhood to play football (what we call soccer over here) with the locals as a reminder that football is a game and he kept playing it because of how much he loved it as a kid.
Tip: Help your staff think more about what they love to do. Why did they get into their role/career/job etc. in the first play? What made them pursue that path? How can they do more of that in their day to day?
Practical Example: Have engineers who loved to put things together when they were younger? Host a Lego or Meccano building or competition. Still working remotely? Deliver kits directly to them and have them take photos of their finished projects or show them off during a team meeting.
Nurture the Adult
Yes, keeping things playful and fun is a great way to bring energy, engagement, and interest back into the workplace, but it's important to remember that your staff are all independent adults who are motivated by finding work that interests them, gives them purpose, and taps into their potential. And, just as importantly, provides them with autonomy and responsibility that matches their ability to think and act independently to make decisions on their own.
Tip: Reflect on your comfort level with extending autonomy to your team and see where you can make adjustments. Does work have to be completed at particular hours, or is there flexibility in when it's completed? How about how it's completed? We often fear granting autonomy not out of worry it won't get done, but because it won't get done how we would have done it. Challenge that belief.
Practical Example: Identify a project or work task that has flexibility in its process and hand this off to your employee with clearly communicated expectations of the outcome, but give them the autonomy to manage how they get to the outcome.
Intentionally Build Unintentional Moments
We all know Steve Jobs is the mastermind behind Apple, but did you know he also had a strong hand in designing the Pixar office space? The office was designed to encourage (inter)mingling and for creativity to happen organically. How did he accomplish this? All of the office's facilities such as restrooms, cafes, mailroom, workout facilities, etc. were in the center of the office, thus encouraging people to get up from their desks multiple times a day, essentially coordinating unplanned interactions and conversations, which created stronger trust and collaborations that turned into new ideas and innovations.
How much of this is happening with part or all of your workforce working remotely?
Tip: Encourage more interactions with your team, other teams, and clients that extend beyond 'shop talk'. Set the stage to encourage the interaction, but let it happen organically.
Practical Example: If you have a new team member who has not had the opportunity to meet the team in person, don't just pair them up with one person to help them get oriented, share this responsibility with the team. Have each team member take on a portion of the onboarding, so they are encouraged to interact one-on-one with each team member and will have an opportunity to get to know them better on a more personal level.
While Thom probably got just as much of a kick out of sending the email as he did in finding the apples, what I love about his story is that he identified that he was stressed and decided to be more thoughtful and intentional about making even small changes because (at the risk of inducing a collective cringe from all of your reading) an apple a day keeps more than the doctor away— it can also keep your team at play.