Playfulness: The power of play in the workplace

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How many times have you seen an interview in which a movie star, a sports hero, or a hugely successful person sums up their passion for what they do with, “I absolutely love what I do!” Isn’t that the secret to happiness—loving what you do? Shouldn’t we all be doing what we love?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who loves the work they do, I’ll bet you’re having fun. People who love what they do naturally have fun doing it. For this reason alone, leaders must allow and encourage playfulness in the workplace.
playful head

Leading with Fun

I can’t help you if you’re not doing what you love. You have to fix that. But if you love what you’re doing and you’re still not having fun, that can be fixed. In many cases the only thing keeping some people from loving what they do is their workplace. It’s not fun.

Fun and playfulness not only belong in the workplace, they make workplaces more effective and productive. Effective leaders lead with fun. That is, they allow and encourage play in the workplace.

Some go so far as to suggest we should not make any distinction between work and play.

License Fun

A number of leaders have asked me how to incorporate fun and playfulness into their workplaces. The easy answer is simply to model it. That doesn’t mean being the life of the party, the office prankster, or always having a hilarious joke to tell.

Any leader can start fostering fun by letting it be known that play will be tolerated. A colleague of mine expressed this as providing “a license to laugh.”

Play the Professional

Fun comes in countless forms. It begins with a naturally relaxed approach to work. It can be expressed as spontaneous joking and lively banter. You can even find it in well-organized and officially sanctioned outings, activities, and celebrations.

As long as work gets done and goals achieved, professional playfulness improves productivity if only by banishing drudgery and boredom.

A Fun Formula

By definition, fun is never forced but always spontaneous and lighthearted. Your efforts to introduce fun need to follow the fun formula. Just joking! That’s a contradiction, right? Playfulness occurs when the rules are suspended, formulas forgotten. At least temporarily.

The way to have fun, then, is to let it happen. Let go of the reins. Give your employees the trust, freedom, and autonomy to be themselves, express their feelings, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s fun!

Serious Fun

But beware, yes, you can go too far. As a leader you do need to be taken seriously. But taking yourself too seriously defeats your purpose. You can learn how to maintain a professional demeanor without presenting an inflated sense of your importance.

In short, be willing to joke and laugh when it’s appropriate. This skill may take time to develop, but it’s well worth the effort.

Leadership Intimacy

Wherever it comes to the question of what’s appropriate, Leadership Intimacy provides the answer. A leader needs to know who needs or wants how much playfulness. Some people may not feel as comfortable as others with playfulness. It’s your job as an intimate leader to know who can handle what and how much fun. When, where, how, and with whom to play.

Do you have the person who can’t tell a joke without blowing the punch line? Or someone who just doesn’t get jokes? They may be very valuable members of your team, right? Don’t let humor ruin their work experience.


As always, balance holds the key. Be a playful and respected leader. Go to either extreme and you lose respect and, therefore, effectiveness. Lighthearted, lively, fun builds trust as effectively as serious coaching does. You can demonstrate that you care about your employees with both.


Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.