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Improving health
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Play at work is a growing area, initiated by global organisations such as Virgin, Google and Facebook who see the importance of looking after employee welfare and ‘time out’ to get the best from them. This is not a fad in these organisations, but permanent activity and deemed acceptable working practice.

It may be seen as unorthodox, but play at work is a means of recharging, connecting with colleagues, problem solving and inspiring creativity, which can include reading and playing games. It is associated with relaxation, enjoyment, fun, exploration and stimulation, whether in groups or alone. It enables people to get to know their colleagues better or provide a mental boost by having a short time away from work-related tasks. To put definitions to one side, employees will define play as it suits them and how it makes them feel, think and perform.

Most organisations that do it well are private, which begs the question: why are public sector organisations lagging behind? Especially when evidence shows positive correlations between play, health and wellbeing, not limited to childhood.

For these reasons NHS Health Scotland recently held its own ‘Play at Work Day’. We provided Lego, colouring pencils, board games and jigsaws and encouraged employees to participate in the communal break-out area. The feedback was encouraging. Employees said that they used the time to kick off 1:1s, break up time spent sitting for long periods, and rest without snacking.

Sadly I wasn’t there (I was on 'play' leave in Canada!) but it’s something that I wholeheartedly support and believe should be encouraged. From a Healthy Working Lives perspective, looking after employee welfare ultimately leads to workplace benefits. Reduced absence rates, reduced accidents and work-related ill health, and enhanced reputation through being seen as an employer who cares are just a few of them.

It may also encourage subsequent behaviour and further reach, such as informal play at home, strengthening relationships among families and friends.

Policies and practices such as supporting employee attendance, which includes agile working and flexible working patterns, are fast becoming the norm in many organisations. They are a means to creating a working culture and environment that enable play at work.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that not all employees work in an office and within what are deemed ‘normal working hours’. Many types of workplace could find this difficult to roll out. For instance, haulage organisations whose drivers are on the road, away from the HQ, for periods of time. Or organisations that use peripatetic and shift workers. Nevertheless, times are definitely changing in challenging working environments. Recently the Army introduced part-time working hours for soldiers to address a recruitment crisis, an enormous challenge to their working culture in itself.

So, if most employers took a leap of faith to get on board with ‘non work in-work’ activity such as play, employee health - physical, mental and social - would be enhanced both within and outside work. In the long term, this would contribute to improved health for more people at the same time.

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