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A unique way to keep your employees happy and engaged

May 7, 2021
By Kara Latta

Play improves our mental health and well-being, writes Kara Latta of The Playful Warrior. (MarekPhotoDesign.com/Adobe Stock)

recent report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reveals that 80 per cent of Canadians indicate the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. While vaccines are becoming more widely available, the toll of COVID-19 on mental health will surely not be short-lived.

More and more, employers understand the mental health crisis is a pandemic of its own, but what can they do to boost mental health and engage employees? How can they reduce anxiety and keep employees happy? How can they uplift them during these challenging times?

My answer may surprise you: add more play to your workplace and culture.

Before you laugh it off, stick with me.


This recommendation may seem unusual since we’re conditioned out of play as adults. We learn that it’s silly, immature, fluffy, purposeless, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • First of all, play is much more than fun! (Though we are all in need of some good ol’ fashioned fun these days…)
  • Second, play deprivation is actually a risk for our health, according to Stuart Brown, MD, National Institute for Play.
  • And as you may or may not be able to tell from your own experience, play deprivation is a huge problem in organizations.

But why is this such a problem? Don’t you have serious responsibilities to tend to? Don’t you and your team have a thousand other things to do before you can prioritize play?

Unhappy employees? Don’t gloss it over


The benefits of play

  • Play improves our mental health and well-being (it’s an incredible natural anti-depressant and brain booster!)
  • Play reduces cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress. CMHA says 47 per cent of working Canadians agree that work is the most stressful part of their day. That’s far too many! Play to the rescue.
  • Play actually increases our productivity, contrary to what many think!
  • Play leads to brain plasticity and adaptability
  • Play invites joy! Play releases endorphins and dopamine (those feel-good hormones we all love)
  • Play soothes our nervous system
  • Play helps employees connect to authentic self-expression so they can feel safe at the workplace
  • Play gives us a higher capacity for empathy in the workplace
  • Play can enhance our memory and focus
  • Play gives us new perspectives to help us work with others and resolve conflict better
  • Play often helps us work out challenges unconsciously
  • Play minimizes burnout and maintains high-level performance
  • Play improves creativity, adaptability and problem-solving skills. Play means greater innovation!
  • Play energizes us, and so much more!

Consider these powerful statistics from Harvard researcher Shawn Achor:

  • when our brain is in positive state, productivity rises by 31 per cent
  • intelligence, creativity and memory all improve dramatically
  • and how cool is this! Doctors primed to be happy are 19 per cent better at making the right diagnosis
  • sales success increases by 37 per cent.

Happiness matters at work

More research from Harvard shows that “social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills.” Connecting employees virtually can prove challenging, but play is a powerful connector. It shows different sides of employees and helps cultivate meaningful relationships among colleagues.

Play is the secret sauce to happier, more-connected employees, which inevitably leads to an engaged and higher performing workplace.

Pretty cool, eh? Let’s play!

Kara Latta is the Chief Fun Officer of The Playful Warrior and a Play and Mindset Coach in Toronto. She offers unique creative play sessions for organizations to help teams emphasize connection, boost mental health and increase joy.

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