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Play might be the most important work we can ever do

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

What enables us to innovate, problem-solve and be happy, smart, resilient human beings?

Our ability to play.

We are familiar with the joy of play - in children and in animals; purposeless, all-consuming and most of all: fun.

Yet play is anything but trivial. It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition.

Play does many things. It develops and increases:

  • problem solving ability and creative capacity

  • emotional expressiveness

  • reading and storytelling competency

  • literacy and language skills

  • writing ability

  • cooperation with others

Adults need to play too

Much has been written about the need for children to play and there is now a growing body of research indicating the same need for adults. In fact, studies show startling effects of lack of play, so it seems play might be the most important work we can ever do.

Why are adults not encouraged to play in our society?

Productivity is the driving force in our society and Play is often defined as unproductive and as an activity that produces no wealth or goods (Caillois, 2001, Huizinga, 1950).

The cost of sole focus on the bottom line

This drive for productivity at all costs leads to a workforce with increased and prolonged cortisol levels, resulting in lack of sleep and energy, digestive problems, headaches, high blood pressure and heart disease. According to the American Institute of Stress, the cost to U.S. companies of stressed, tired and burnt out employees, with consequent limited creativity and productivity, is $300 billion per year. In turn, burnt out employees seek other employment, increasing staff turnover; they also become ill, thus increasing costs of health care and insurance.

In addition, employers’ sole focus on the bottom line without taking care of the needs of their human capital, means that families suffer - stressed employees bring their stress home, causing family disruption, parental absenteeism, divorce and, in some instances, premature death.

In an attempt to counteract workplace stress, adults spend a considerable portion of their hard – earned money on recreational activities like sports, reading, holidays and gambling. In the US the figure is 8.6%, while in SA the figure is currently at 3.8%, but with the massive increase in the price of petrol, leading to higher food and transport costs, there will be much less available spend for recreation.

It is clear adults are willing to invest time and money on recreational activities or diversions, some of which are arguably not truly playful, but are seen as a means to calm down, rejuvenate and feel healthier.

What if we brought play to work?

Many companies see training as a financial drain. According to one study, it is estimated that $360 billion was spent on training globally in 2016 and has been growing at a compounded rate of 10% per year. So, given this huge investment by corporates, why does it seem like so many training initiatives fail?

Here are the top nine reasons:

1. Lack of buy-in/involvement from corporate leadership

2. Poorly defined outcomes

3. Lack of accountability or engagement on behalf of the employee population

4. The reason for training is not clearly communicated

5. Lack of resources

6. Training is viewed as an event versus a process

7. Lack of follow-up/follow-through

8. Belief that training fixes everything

9. Training content is not up to date/too generic

People learn more effectively when they are enjoying themselves: when they are satisfying some felt need or interest, and are emotionally involved in what has personal relevance to them; when they feel good about the whole idea of learning and the exercise of their learning competence; when they feel confident, secure and in a low threat, co-operative, non-competitive situation.

This calls for more use of games in training.

Games at the very least touch upon the affective domain in a way most current corporate training does not. Serious games lead to a more productive workplace.

Kunjani enables customised content, in bite-sized chunks, delivered in a blended, stress free, fun environment.

Author: Lenore Zietsman



Boyens, J. (2018). Want To Ensure A Good ROI On Your Training Spend? Offer A Blended Solution. Available:

Hazell, C. (2018). Why We Need More Play, Recreation, and Leisure in Our Lives. Available:

Heron, J (1992). Feeling and Parenthood: Psychology in another Key. London: Sage. p229. Microsoft Research Published on Sep 6, 2016 Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

Rodriguez, H. (2006). The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga's Homo Ludens. The international journal of computer game research. 6 (1).

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