Editor's Note: We recently updated this previously published post with new insights.
"Tag! You’re it!"
As a kid, those words may have been your signal to run like the wind while you and your friends scattered across the playground.
At no point during this activity did you stop and wonder how many calories you were burning.
Playful games like tag can be transformative, making almost any activity more enjoyable. So if you want your corporate wellness program (and your wellness challenges) to be more enjoyable for your employees, why not weave a sense of play into your corporate wellness strategy?
Why Include Play in Your Corporate Wellness Program?
At first, many people don't often associate wellness with fun. And it’s not surprising, especially when we're flooded with photoshopped Instagram posts, superficial health advice, and overpriced fitness products from out-of-touch celebrities and influencers.
Because of this, when employees are asked about corporate wellness programs, they aren't exactly enthusiastic about jumping on board. But introducing wellness challenges that are both carefree and playful can show your employees that wellness doesn't have to be a chore—it's restorative.
Not to mention, playful wellness challenges can also elevate the effectiveness of your corporate wellness program and help your employees feel more holistically well.
Play Relieves Stress
It's no secret that engaging in play distracts you from stressors, but did you know that your body is hard-wired to like it?
Research shows that play helps your body release endorphins, which are the same chemicals that are responsible for creating “runner’s highs.” Plus, since play requires focus, it can take your mind off stressful situations and actually reduce the number of stress hormones in your body.
Play Boosts Creativity
Have you ever wrestled with a problem for hours, only to have the solution suddenly appear in your head while you’re focusing on something else?
Focusing on enjoyable activities actually ignites the creative parts of your brain by giving your brain a rest from any troubling tasks at hand. Bob Marley, the world-renowned songwriter and pioneer of reggae, would exemplify this when he would block off time before every concert to play soccer with his bandmates and supercharge his creativity on stage.
Play Fosters Relationships
To improve team bonding, nothing works faster than actually having fun together.
“Play helps us connect with other people,” Dr. Bowen White, founding member of the National Institute for Play (NIFP), told CNN. “It opens us up in a way that invites other people to think, ‘Maybe this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.’”
Play Stimulates the Mind
In addition to boosting creativity, play has also proven to make people smarter.
A landmark neuroscience study conducted by scientist Marian Diamond and her colleagues found that rats who were raised in exciting, toy-filled colonies developed thicker cerebral cortices than rats who were raised joylessly and alone. In a similar study conducted years later, rats who were raised in more playful environments were able to find their way through mazes more quickly than rats who weren't.
In other words, teams that are full of more creative, less stressed, and more engaged employees actually become more efficient thinkers as well.
How to Integrate Play into Your Corporate Wellness Program
So, how do you make your corporate wellness program more playful, effective, and engaging?
The key is to remember that there are different types of play that people enjoy. In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown, another founding member of the NIFP, identifies five distinct archetypes of play:
Rough-and-tumble play: tug-of-war, kickball, dodgeball, tag, or any type of play that is highly active or even competitive
Ritual play: board games or sports that have set rules and structures
Imaginative play: coloring, painting, crafting, doing improv, or telling stories
Body play: hiking, riding a roller coaster, or other activities where you challenge gravity or other forces of nature
Object play: LEGO blocks, puzzles, building a fort, making paper airplanes, or other activities that involve manipulating or building objects
Integrating multiple play archetypes into your corporate wellness program is crucial for improving employee well-being and driving engagement. Personalizing different types of play based on each employee's preferences is also necessary; for example, some employees may dread the idea of a weekly dodgeball game, while others might relish it. Offering a wide variety of play-based wellness challenges ensures there’s something for everybody to enjoy.
Need a place to start? Here are five of our own corporate wellness challenges that apply the principles of play in different ways.
Play for 300 minutes. Play not only exercises your mind and provides an opportunity to be creative, but it also creates an environment where we can socialize in a natural, unique way. Invite employees to track 300 minutes of their favorite types of play, from sports and board games to dancing and painting.
Color for 100 minutes. Adult coloring books can be incredibly soothing, but the intricate designs can create a lot of pressure to make things look “perfect.” Offer a wide variety of coloring books along with plenty of crayons and colored pencils to encourage employees to embrace imaginative play.
Play group games. Once a month, why not extend lunch breaks and have a gaming tournament? Bring in a variety of games, from board games to video games, and let employees gravitate to the types of games they enjoy most. Add in some healthy snacks and offer prizes for Best Sportsmanship, Best Victory Dance, and Most Creative Interpretation of the Rules.
Dance for 150 minutes. Even if you're not Fred Astaire, dancing can be a really fun activity, both individually and in groups. Simply hearing good music will make you want to dance, so encourage your employees to try this in the morning or after work for a quick energy boost.
Express yourself for 500 minutes. Playing music, writing, dancing, drawing, gardening—no matter what you're doing, creating stimulates your mind and gives you a sense of identity. Challenge your employees to track how many minutes they spend creating every day.
There are countless ways to encourage play by using your corporate wellness program. Get your wellness committee and staff to channel their children and think of some fun wellness challenge ideas.
Whether it’s a dancing activity using a video game console, a morning bike ride (complete with handlebar streamers), or making funny animals out of modeling clay, re-discovering the joy of pure play can rejuvenate your corporate wellness program and your employees.