In a healthy organization, everybody plays.

When work feels like play you get a huge boost in creativity, productivity, and innovation, better physical and mental health, fewer sick days, better teamwork, reduced stress and higher retention for your staff.  


“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.”

Brian Sutton-Smith


Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” Heraclitus

Play, like work, demands intense thought activity, learning, serious strategic implementation, creativity, interplay of individual and group efforts, an agreement to abide by rules, and a safe space to resolve conflict.

Crucially, it also requires that you accept your playmates:

“Play matters because people matter. It reminds us of our interdependence and gives us a chance to really see other people. And in turn, to be really and truly seen.”  Jill Vialet

When work feels like play, you get a huge uptick in:

  • Organizational citizenship
  • Reduced levels of stress
  • Measurably better physical health
  • Fewer sick days
  • Better teamwork
  • More retention
  • More innovation

How does group play generate belonging and psychological safety?


Nine-year-old Brenda knows:   “Yes! You can play with us! You’re on my team. What’s your name?   I’m Brenda. These are the rules. That’s Cade: he’s the best at it but here’s how he isn’t. This is Michelene, she got to make the boundaries. Watch out for cars over there…”

And, from a study of play in a high-tech firm:

“[Play generated] psychological safety via two mechanisms: vulnerability and comradeship. Psychological safety is both a result and a reinforcer of play practices. Once established, psychological safety fosters several work processes on which innovation rests, namely engendering new ideas, finding collaborators, intensifying effort, and addressing difficult conversations and conflict.”   (September 2021 Journal of Innovation Management)


 “[P]lay practices…foster the conditions for innovative work, characterized by risk-taking and social interaction, both of which demand that people perceive the environment to be psychologically safe (Baer & Frese, 2003; West & Richter, 2008). Psychological safety is defined as individual’s perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks (Edmondson, 1999).

Belonging begins the path to psychological safety in organizations. Learning, contributing, and innovating, in that order, are next.

You might be thinking, “Hmm. I already have great contributors and  innovators–they must be good with belonging and learning.” Good point.

But what about the other employees? What about onboarding? Those who are solid on the first two safeties need to offer them to others.

People offering belonging are like Brenda, above, who says “Come play! These are the rules. That’s Cade…”

“People offering belonging.”


Not a bad Glassdoor review…