Play at Work, Work at Play

- Worker Happiness

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by Jurgen Appelo

So… my team at Happy Melly came up with a new idea. They organize online dance parties. Every Friday morning, in our virtual team meeting, one person gets to choose a dance song, and then all others are asked to dance to it, for a couple of minutes.

I’m not kidding.

Where are the good old days when I, as a manager, could simply call a meeting, ask each team member for a status update, scold them for being idiots, and then tell them to kiss my feet and piss off, in a Steve-Jobs-kind-of-way? Nowadays, all in the spirit of employee engagement, they want to see my status updates, on Twitter, my family photos on Facebook, and a link to my Spotify playlist.

I’m totally fine with it though. Money does not create happiness, some people say. But there’s plenty of evidence that employee happiness does generate money, for the business. I have no problems dancing… to the sound of money dropping in our bank account. We sure need it, to make the world of work a better place for everyone.

But, how can you achieve happiness of employees, as the manager of a small company? Well, it’s ridiculously simple, actually. It all comes down to play-at-work and work-at-play.


Play-at-work is all about adding a dash of playfulness to your job and bringing some of your personality into your work life.

Let me give you some work life balance examples:

Nicolas, our creative video guy over here, has a dog. She’s called Lady. Each of our recording sessions includes Lady’s hair, Lady’s fragrance, and Lady’s saliva all over my pants and shoes. I don’t mind, because this is play-at-work.

Last week, Jennifer, our social media marketer, had the urge to wear a set of panda ears during one of our online meetings. What we all thought was very funny, was that nobody actually noticed Jennifer’s larger-than-life panda ears. That was play-at-work too.

Louise, our talented copy editor, admitted that, for video calls, she likes to combine smart tops with pajama bottoms. Apparently, I was totally wrong assuming that she was wearing drop-crotch pants. That’s play-at-work as well.


Work-at-play is all about applying your business talents to your hobbies and adding a touch of professionalism to your personal life. Let me give you some examples of that:

Lisette, our virtual office manager, is known to love climbing, and she carries her virtual office to the highest mountain tops in Switzerland. She blogs about that too. Her next post: How to organize a podcast from the Matterhorn. That’s work-at-play.

Hannu, our wacky web designer, is happy when he can spend his work-life surfing in Bali. Surfing is important for him, and I’m expecting a video call from a surfboard any time soon. Surfing while surfing. That’s work-at-play too.

Last but not least, Sergey, our savvy software developer, is organizing a world tour where he will be working for amazing companies, for free, as a learning experience. Why? Because he’s nuts! That’s work-at-play as well.


Play-at-work, work-at-play… Confusing? Doesn’t matter! Just remember that life is not only pure work versus pure play.

Play-at-work was me wearing a Winnie the Pooh tie, to hold on to some joy in the darkest period of my career, when I briefly worked at a conservative bank.

Work-at-play is me blogging about running, applying an agile improvement cycle to running, and even considering to write a book about running.
Play-at-work, and work-at-play. That’s the secret of happy workers. We don’t want to keep our business and private lives neatly separated. We find happiness in the middle, where they overlap. We work, we play, we make a bit of fun and we make money while making a difference.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe it’s my turn to pick a dance song for next Friday’s meeting. I noticed that some of our team’s work is slightly behind schedule. I think it’s time to make them dance to some high-energy disco.

Photo: Braydon Anderson (Unsplash)

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