Is Creativity Accessible in the Workplace? The Power of Playfulness & Inclusion  

Jul 9, 2024

Have you ever worked on a project at the office and found yourself losing track of time because you were genuinely enjoying the process? Maybe you’d even describe it as “fun”! On the other hand, have you ever participated in a work activity that was planned to be “fun for the team”, only to find it anything but? 

As I sat down to write this blog (I generally LOVE to write), my creative flow was hindered on a few occasions. For several days my computer seemed to conspire against me with crashes, confusing UI updates, and mounting frustration. The seemingly small setbacks built up a wall where my creativity wasn’t accessible. 

This made me wonder… Can play be stressful? Can work be playful? How accessible is creativity in the workplace…for everyone? While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I believe there are valuable insights to be gained by exploring these questions from various perspectives. 

The Work-Play Dichotomy  

Traditionally, work and play have been viewed as opposites. Work is often seen as a structured, goal-oriented task, while play is considered enjoyable, relaxing, and free from constraints. But let’s face it, this binary view is outdated. Workplaces today are increasingly blending the lines between work and play, making it possible to have fun while getting things done.  

This reminds me of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow.’ This state of being fully immersed in an activity can happen at work or during play, bringing deep satisfaction and enhancing productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction. Sounds great, right? 

Dr. Stuart Brown, a renowned psychiatrist and researcher, takes it a step further by emphasizing that play is not just a leisure activity but a fundamental aspect of human nature that can extend into the work that we do. Playfulness involves a diminished feeling of self-consciousness, improvisational potential, a sense of freedom, and engagement in activities for their own sake. In other words, play is more about the state of mind than the activity itself. So yes, you can absolutely achieve playfulness and flow even at work, leading to…drum roll… deeper engagement and creativity! 

However, if having fun at work were that simple, why aren’t we all productivity machines? The reality is that what’s fun for one person isn’t necessarily fun for another. Some people love team games or after-work beers, while others prefer solo tasks or quiet environments. Also – writing, coding, brainstorming, networking, designing, traveling…can be fun for one and an absolute nightmare for another. In addition, the “fun” target is one that is ever moving. An activity that starts out enjoyably in the AM can set in as exhaustion by another part of the day. 

But what about the impact of “fun” from the lens of our bodies & nervous systems, especially those with disabilities (visible & invisible)? Think chronic pain, a progressive disability, a temporary injury, episodic flare ups, or neurodivergence. All these individual differences play a significant role in what is fun for one employee and what is a massive cognitive or physical load to navigate for another. Achieving fun and playfulness at work is complex, especially if we overload our bodies and nervous systems with tasks and work that lead to stress and burnout.  

Stress and Its Impact on Creativity and Executive Functioning 

When we lack play in our lives, stress, overwhelm, and burnout often follow. Stress is a silent creativity killer. In high-pressure environments, the brain’s executive functions—planning, decision-making, and problem-solving—can become impaired, leading to decreased creativity and productivity. 

For disabled employees, the stress can potentially be compounded with issues surrounding accommodations, attitudinal barriers from employers/coworkers, or navigating assistive technology. Troubleshooting or configuring additional devices that aren’t the appropriate accommodation can add another layer of stress or complexity. This added cognitive load can disadvantage someone’s creativity from the start. However, with the right support and tools, all employees can have equal opportunity to thrive and significantly contribute creatively to the workplace. 

By understanding the relationship between stress, creativity, and the power of appropriate accommodations for all employees, organizations can create environments that foster innovation and reduce burnout…and maybe even create a working environment that’s more fun! 

Building Inclusive Work Environments and Leveraging Assistive Technology for Creativity 

Although a workplace pool or foosball table might be fun for some, a giant coloring wall isn’t the solution for fostering creativity and playfulness for everyone. We must look deeper. 

To foster creativity and inclusivity, we must go beyond one-size-fits-all solutions and tailor our approach to the diverse needs of employees. Here are some strategies to consider to fuel belonging, and inclusion, and move the needle towards creating a more playful workplace:  

  • Understand Individual Needs: Have open discussions to understand preferences, enjoyable activities, and specific physical or mental health needs. 
  • Flexible Workspaces: Create adaptable spaces, including quiet zones, collaborative areas, and well-equipped environments for various working styles. 
  • Assistive Technology (AT): Proactively ask employees if they need AT tools like Cephable, ergonomic workstations, screen readers, or other tools to reduce cognitive load or physical demands to enhance their efficiency. A small AT change can create a large impact on flow & productivity. 
  • Training and Awareness: Educate employees about the benefits of inclusivity and assistive technology, encouraging support and understanding between colleagues to reduce stigma around individual differences. 
  • Encourage Playfulness: Create a safe space for idea expression without fear of judgment, encouraging creative risks. 
  • Lean into Strengths: Utilize individual interests and strengths to assign personally engaging projects and ultimately more fun for you or your staff. 
  • Regularly Review and Adapt: Continuously assess and adjust inclusivity and creativity strategies based on feedback to meet evolving team needs. 
  • Encourage Breaks: Promote the importance of taking breaks and vacations to avoid burnout.

The Power of Inclusive Leadership 

Inclusive leadership taps into the power of differences, where diverse perspectives are valued and leveraged. This inclusivity doesn’t just happen; it thrives under leaders who understand that the best ideas often come from the most unexpected places. Inclusive leadership transforms potential into performance and unique perspectives into creative powerhouses by fostering an environment where differences are celebrated. When employees feel supported (and are having fun), they are more likely to stay and more inclined to bring their authentic selves to work, which in turn fuels innovation. 

Reimagining the work-play dichotomy through the lens of inclusive leadership means acknowledging that creativity and play are accessible to everyone when the right conditions are met. It’s about creating a workplace where stress is minimized, support is abundant, and every team member feels valued for their contributions. This environment not only enhances productivity but also makes work a place where people can truly enjoy the process, finding joy in their daily tasks and interactions. 

 

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