Playtime is serious business.

That may sound counterintuitive, but growing bodies of research suggest playtime shouldn't end in childhood. The benefits of play for adults are showing up everywhere from therapy sessions, to people's personal lives, to the workplace.

It's not as if Google famously provides employees with opportunities for play (in the form of beach volleyball, bowling, and other activities on the tech magnate's main campus) for no good reason. Nor does LinkedIn supply its employees with foosball and ping-pong tables just for kicks.

Companies from Whole Foods to IDEO to Zynga are exploring ways to encourage unstructured time in the office and incorporate play into the world of work. And they're doing it for very good reasons. Here's why playtime should be part of any job .

Play improves cognitive function

Games that directly engage cognitive skills--such as chess, Sudoku, or word games--have been shown to promote healthy brain function . Better problem-solving skills, greater retention of learned information, and enhanced creativity and imaginative thinking all result from regular doses of cognitive play.

Play increases productivity

It might seem counterintuitive, but taking a break from work and engaging in free play instead can actually provide a productivity boost . Failure to take these unstructured breaks, on the other hand, can result in decreased work performance. The key word here is unstructured--employees won't get the same benefits from play when the conditions of that playtime are mandated and/or rigid.

Play enhances talent acquisition

Millennial workers are attracted to workplaces that promote fun at work. They're also more likely than older generations to believe having fun at work can reduce stress and improve work performance and productivity. So incorporating playtime into the company culture can be an effective way to bring in young talent. Given that millennials will comprise approximately 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, it's important to attract and retain younger workers.

Play reduces stress and burnout

Play allows employees to relieve tension and refill their emotional and cognitive wells. This is partly because play can release endorphins, or feel-good chemicals that help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and boost positive affect. By allowing employees opportunities to let go of stress and recharge, businesses can reduce absenteeism due to illness or burnout.

Play boosts workplace satisfaction

Employees who have fun at work are more likely to be engaged in their jobs . This is partly because they're less likely to suffer from the damaging effects of stress (as mentioned above). It's also because employees who play together are more likely to have positive relationships, which means they'll benefit from improved collaboration and a sense of support on the job.

Playtime benefits virtually every aspect of a company, from its employees' morale to its bottom line. Creating a company culture that values play isn't just fun--it's a smart, effective way to ensure business success.

Mar 15, 2017