How can play help us to reimagine the way we work? 

5 min

The all-familiar expression ‘work hard, play harder’ (or WHPH if you like) is often used to describe someone’s work-life balance. An opportunity to pursue personal passions outside of the daily grind. Also for companies with notoriously long-hours and busy social schedules, it’s become a way of making the hard-working culture seem OK (when it isn’t).  

As a manifesto for describing culture norms (which can be traced back to the 19th Century), today the phrase itself has become a song title, a book title, and a podcast, which all point to society’s ‘idealistic’ way to live your life. A life where you have some time to play when the job is done.  

But why should play be something separate to work? What if instead, we’re able to re-imagine the way we think about work, and instead combine the two? A working world where play is encouraged as a natural path to seeing and approaching those day-to-day outcomes differently.  

According to Playfilled, a start-up dedicated to bringing more play into organisations, understanding how each person likes to play can be really powerful – as play is the most natural way to connect people and learn.  

And by ‘play’ at work, it’s not the play that you might imagine (ball pits, anyone?); it’s used to describe how people work both individually and collectively to achieve results and creatively solve problems – all of which can feel playful.  

As huge believers in the power of play at work, we chatted with co-founder, Tzuki Stewart to understand more about their mission to bring more play to the workplace, why play is just as important as sleep, and how people can introduce a playful approach to their work.  


Tell us about Playfilled and its mission?  

 We’re a people strategy lab helping organisations transform by embedding purposeful play in their culture. Play is as important as sleep and as powerful as purpose. It’s bold! But there is a wealth of evidence on how play leads to better performance, just like quality sleep. Play also boosts motivation, like having a clear sense of purpose.   

However, there are still a lot of barriers to the idea of bringing more play into our work – myths like it’s frivolous or unproductive, only looks like one thing (which is usually fooling around and playing the joker), or that some of us are playful whereas others aren’t. Playfilled exists to reframe our collective understanding of play and help brave leaders embrace the power of play to encourage creativity, collaboration, and continuous learning in their organisations.  

So what was the inspiration behind Playfilled?  

My co-founder Pauline and I were both driven by society’s idea of what it means to be successful, and we achieved lots on paper. But behind the scenes, it was a rocky road. Something very human was missing from our work – which we now realise was a sense of play! We united around the notion that play is misunderstood and undervalued in adulthood; and where better to start than at work, where we spend most of our time?  

How do you define play/play at work?    

When we talk about play, we aren’t talking about simply being silly! It looks and feels different to all of us. Play can be any activity that you enjoy, or how an experience or interaction feels to you. It enables us to enter a state of flow, where we are totally absorbed in whatever we are doing and are fully present in that moment. Play can also simply be a mindset and a way of seeing the world – experimenting, holding problems and ideas lightly, and being curious.  

You talk about different play preferences, why is it important to discover them? 

Play preferences, inspired by the work of Dr Stuart Brown, can change throughout your life.  

Discovering and then embracing them is the first step towards reconnecting with how you like to play and using those insights in how you work (and live). How about exploring – do you love to travel, learn new things, seek out information, or lose yourself in research?  Or creating – a love of design, having an eye for details, restoring or developing something, or just creating something of beauty for yourself. Moving is play for those of us who seek out every opportunity to push our bodies through adventure, sports or fitness aims. Or how about directing – where organising, coordinating projects, and bringing people together to achieve something great may look like work for some, but is play to you? Competing, entertaining and storytelling are other examples of play preferences, which can create amazing opportunities for finding more play within our work.  

Sounds fascinating, so how does Playfilled encourage more play at work?  

We work with leaders in a variety of ways – from delivering talks on how play intersects with key future of work trends, to running Discovery and Visioning Labs to explore how play can bring their people strategy to life, to helping deliver transformation programmes designed to evolve ways of working. But excitingly, there are so many smaller playful practices that anyone of us can incorporate into our work.   

Can you give some examples of how people can start to weave play into their work?  

Once you’ve reflected on your play preferences, you can share with others and ask about their preferences too; how could these insights help allocate work between you? You could also find incentives to complete less enjoyable tasks by rewarding yourself with your preferred ‘way of play’ once finished. Or how about reimagining how to approach your work: if you enjoy competing, you could set a time challenge – or if you love creating or storytelling, how could you weave that into your communications?  

Give yourself permission to take a play break to clear your mind and get new inspiration when you’re working on something.   

Where can people find out more?   

You can find out more at Playfilled and follow our playful ponderings on LinkedIn. If you’d like to get in touch, please drop me or Pauline a line. We’d love to hear from you!  

HappyHQ helps companies easily measure, plan, and celebrate people-first company cultures. To find out more, visit   

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