Games in the boardroom prevent burnout‚ say authors of activity book for adults

Many of us have left playing behind on the playgrounds of our childhoods‚ but new research is making a case for bringing play into boardrooms‚ factory floors and canteens to fight workday blues.

In workshops held in Johannesburg on Thursday‚ husband-and-wife duo and authors of the recently launched Play@Work book Shane and Rozelle Johansen explained how.

According to research‚ one in three South Africans suffer from mental illness in their lifetime‚ said Shane‚ who is an executive leadership coach.

The cost of this on the South African economy is 2.2% of GDP‚ which translates into R40.6-billion.

Almost 16% of South Africans will suffer from anxiety‚ almost 10% from mood disorders and 13.4% from substance use disorders‚ Shane said.

What is not included in this grim picture is burnout.

Shane and Rozelle believe that many in corporate South Africa are suffering from burnout‚ which is not recognised as a medical diagnosis in the country‚ as it is internationally.

“Instead depression‚ anxiety and stress disorders share many of the same symptoms as the more socially acceptable ‘burnout label’‚” Rozelle said.

Working in human resources‚ Rozelle says she saw first-hand the effects of a workday without play: “My career took a number of twists and turns – and I discovered a workspace that valued “working hard and playing hard!” And boy did we do both!

“Then the economy changed and we found ourselves working longer and harder – with play times becoming further and further apart.

“I was in HR and watching people go by as the walking dead … steadily losing hope – and heart … running on the treadmill trying to keep their heads above water‚ [which] disturbed me.

“Sometimes I was given carte blanche to engage employees in a ‘team build’ — and so I began to experiment with play.

“Every time people played something magical happened. Every time people left refreshed‚ lighter and ready to face their work. I wished I could package this ‘feel good’ and send it back home (and to work) with them.”

And so the Play@Work book was born — a book that should not be read‚ but rather played.

Resembling a children’s activity book‚ Play@Work is a collection of games‚ word puzzles and mental and physical exercises designed to reduce stress.

The workshops the Johansens offer give participants a taste of play and form part of the couple’s ongoing research.

In one workshop two women broke down in tears after Shane had taken through a “clearing” activity‚ which uses visualisation and imagination to assist in ordering thoughts.

Said Shane: “I asked them if they would share with the group what had caused such an emotional response … one woman said‚ ‘This is the first time in about 15 to 17 years that I’ve felt quiet on the inside’.”

Surveying 20 play workshop participants‚ Shane and Rozelle found that 60% said they felt differently about a problem or concern they had when they arrived; 67% said they has a solution for the problem; 85% said they felt more hopeful related to this problem and 72% said they felt less stressed.

Leadership coach and lecturer Kathy Bennett‚ who attended a Johannesburg play workshop said: “I think this is essential. There’s a big focus on mindfulness. It’s taken off in the US in places like the Silicone Valley. This is building on that. Giving you some concrete tools. And you feel it. There’s a lightness.”

Human resources graduate Paballo Mosoatsi said‚ though the concept of play is not new‚ “the fact that people believe in it is really cool”.

Shane holds a masters degree in work-based research and learning‚ with a specialisation in coaching. Rozelle has an honours degree in psychology and a masters degree in business administration.

— TMG Digital

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