How many times over the past week have you read, seen or heard the words “The Great Resignation”?
Employee engagement is at an all time low, people are tired and people are walking out.
However, despite the evidence that you can’t buy employee satisfaction, companies are still bending over backwards to implement an array of strategies and benefits to encourage employee engagement – with minimal impact on long-term retention, performance, and productivity.
With decreased employee engagement and hindered morale being a driving influence to challenge your employees, everybody is scrambling to find a fool-proof solution to creating happier and healthier employees.
But what if we stopped trying to over complicate the system, and instead went back to the fundamentals of child’s play? As an outdoor educator and play expert, whose business – Wearthy – is built on creating places that turn children into strong, happy and healthy adults – surely, this can have the same effects on adults.
Here’s how it works:
Embracing elements of risk
Courageous leaders inspire employees to leverage fears to accomplish their goals. These leaders know that fear drives mediocrity and that it is necessary to take risks to excel.
Before you assume the worst. Let me put this into perspective – when it comes to play there is very much a difference between a hazard and a risk. A hazard is likely to instill harm, whereas a risk involves uncertainty about the outcome of an activity.
For example, inviting a child to play with a saw may instill discomfort or fear in the parent, but through understanding and enacting supervised play with a potentially dangerous tool, we can see how children discover the importance of safety and creativity.
As such, when embracing risk, we give employees an understanding of self limitations and failure in a way that builds resilience and adaptability in working towards a goal. Risk then therefore serves to motivate, problem-solve and instill self-confidence.
Within the workplace we can provide ample opportunities to learn by taking risks which will foster resilience and develop skills – which can be leveraged in the future.
These may include placing (willing) staff in step up roles or getting teams to contribute solutions or suggestions outside their core wheelhouse and creating opportunities for staff to contribute in different areas within the company.
These activities will create an element of trust, and will inspire staff to step out of their comfort zone by supporting and enacting risk – without retribution; instilling confidence and inspiring them to enhance their skills, foster a culture of learning, and create a window of opportunity for the future of the organisation.
Create open-ended experiences
This addresses that age-old issue of micromanagement. In child’s play, open-ended experiences allow for experimentation and creativity by not dictating the playstyle.
Think for example, the difference between a child playing with a seesaw where there is only one way to play, versus a cardboard box which could be a rocketship, car, castle or any possibility we can imagine. In the workplace, it’s the same.
Workplaces that integrate freedom to create, experience change – and learn to embrace change – see greater engagement, and endless opportunities.
Providing employees with the chance to solve problems and work through challenges stimulates greater engagement and elevates how they complete future tasks.
In the development of a child, we can see, in a number of ways, how doing this enhances skills, creates new perspectives, and inspires performance beyond their capabilities.
Open-ended experiences can take a number of forms across specific tasks, projects, or education methods for new systems or procedures.
For example, set a top line outcome that you want achieved, don’t dictate middle milestones, don’t dictate specific responsibilities and definitely don’t dictate the process of delivery – empower the team to produce a viable solution, without your input.
Integrating open-ended activities will stimulate proactive and divergent thinking about a topic, task, or procedure, which will, in turn, result in forward thinking that positively contributes to the ongoing success of your organisation.
Support sensory stimulation
When we create spaces for children, it’s all about supporting sensory stimulation to create connection. This may include listening to new sounds or helping to cook. But as businesses, how can we integrate similar sensory activities into the workplace?
And how, in particular, do we do this while we’re still navigating return to office, with some working from home and all sorts of hybrid and flex models?
It’s about finding a way to create shared sensory experiences that can connect teams, even if they are collaborating at the time via varied methods.
Through prioritising stimulating the senses, we can see meetings and day-to-day activities transform into an arena of possibility (plus, we start combating that Zoom burnout).
Take the visionary sense for example – add an opportunity that takes away from simply looking at each other’s faces, or a dull document.
This may also include the incorporation of technology such as slide shows, videos, and drop in some gifs, hide words or illustrations and set a challenge for people to be the first to spot these, anything that gets people focusing on a different visual experience.
From a sound perspective, forget the cameras entirely, instead, chances for purely aural conversations that maintain engagement that is different to other elements of the day.
Furthermore, and this is particularly good for long sessions with employees across – provide treats and/or fidget items for shared experiences across taste, touch and smell!
You would be amazed by the level of connection, focus and concentration that these seemingly minor adjustments can achieve. Employing such techniques creates an arena of learning opportunities and supports staff as they, too, adjust to the home/office.
The way a child plays is critical for who they become as an adult, so by applying the rules of child’s play to the workplace, we can foster the soft skills and capabilities of our teams.
And in doing so we can stimulate a higher sense of purpose for employees to foster greater engagement; nurture the confidence to set and achieve bigger goals and capabilities that will amplify outcomes.
I mean really, if our children can succeed in this way, why can’t we?
Lukas Ritson is founder of Wearthy and an outdoor educator and play expert. He’s super passionate about the importance of play in developing critical lifelong skills in children and has delivered keynotes on this across the world.