Work Hard, Play Hard: Is That Right?

Many of us have heard the term “work hard, play hard” but where did it come from and what does it really mean? This phrase is often a premise for, ” FYI you will work your butt off but don’t worry we will take you to happy hour every other week”. Scientist Jessica de Bloom observed that the effects of a vacation wear off in just two to four weeks in a group of 96 Dutch workers that were surveyed. Is it possible that we need to work less and play harder to really be at the peak of effectiveness?

The American (over) work ethic was embedded into our society by our early puritan forefathers and has been reinforced by the concoction of the “American Dream”.  Science is currently telling a very different story and organizations are now trying to reconstruct the foundations of corporate culture.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. – Ferris Jabr, Scientific American, 2013

The average person will spend approximately 90,000 hours working in their lifetime and research shows that 80% of people in the workforce are dissatisfied with their job. Overall it seems that Americans are working longer and harder than anyone else.

More than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese and Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too. – Dean Schabner, ABC News, 2016

My personal struggle to maintain work life balance has become more important to me as my knowledge of play grows. It is an active struggle that requires a vigilant assessment of my current state and needs consistently. It has been ingrained in me that long hours and hard work is what advances you and this was what guided me at the beginning of my career. Over the years, I have begun to see life for more than what money can buy, redefined my definition of success and have developed a passion for change.

I have observed that many people’s lives are in shambles, our priorities are often skewed and there are few people willing to champion a cause. Part of this is due to who we are required to be from nine to five in order to thriv900000e. Much of our corporate culture requires us to keep our heads down in servitude and is counter productive to who we should be as people and engaged citizens. This mentality is hurting our society and is pumping out a generation that is apathetic and disengaged.

The United States obsession with work is eating away at the quality of American lives and workaholism is named as a key contributing factor in divorce rates and stress related illnesses. The problem is that many organizations today focus on results but lack the infrastructure that supports human development. Change is on the horizon as scientific research has proven the positive impact of play.

As I learn moreculture about play, I am beginning to think about why and how I would integrate play into an organization. Changes in technology have advocated for a scientific perspective of human performance; from health and wellness to creating mindful and innovative spaces for people to work. The tech industry somehow has caught wind of the power of play and is taking the lead in transforming corporate culture. Fortune has named Google as the number one company to work for the seventh time in ten years. In an interview with Fox News, Stuart Brown invited his audience to think of play as a state of being and also noted that play is different for everyone.

Google has been insightful because they have a whole spectrum of play opportunities so employees can find the niche that works for them. – Stuart Brown, National Institute of Play,  Fox News, 2012

Play is not necessarily playing a game or doing a specific type of activity. Play is about finding ways to break away from tasks in order to unleash something more. Play is doing something that may not have a specific goal or rationale and is different for everyone. “If you’re engaged in it deeply, that’s play,” (Stuart Brown, Fox News, 2012). Creating a playful culture can be as small as starting every meeting with an ice breaker or even a quote of the day.

Begin to have a sense of richness from your own internal thought process, Stuart Brown said. Take mini- breaks, and think back to a time when you were more carefree, even to childhood; and visualize yourself doing something that was completely enjoyable. You may realize that something is missing from your life and re-introduce it. If you loved competitive sports, maybe you’d join a tennis league. If you loved photography, maybe you can bring your camera to work and take creative breaks. – Stuart Brown, National Institute of Play,  Fox News, 2012







Check Out 2016’s Best Companies to Work For. (2016). Retrieved June 26, 2016, from

Jabr, F. (2013, October 15). Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Retrieved June 27, 2016, from

Shabner, D. (2016, May 01). Americans Work More Than Anyone. Retrieved June 26, 2016, from

Shontell, A. (2011, February 24). 15 Seriously Disturbing Facts About Your Job. Retrieved June 26, 2016, from

Work hard, play harder: Fun at work boosts creativity, productivity | Fox News. (2012, September 15). Retrieved June 26, 2016, from work-hard-play-harder-fun-at-work-boosts-creativity-productivity.html




One Reply to “Work Hard, Play Hard: Is That Right?”

  1. Excellent article. I also think many of our concepts of work were born of the industrial age which no longer serve us. Even the school system with their structured classes, and bells that are rung to announce class changes were modeled after factory life, getting children prepared for the workplace. I created a Time Management class years ago and discovered that the 15 minute break was created by Industrial Psychologist in the industrial age. So many employees were having accidents by having long hair, fingers or even limbs caught in machines. The psychologists noted that by just taking 15 minutes away from repetitive work refreshed the employees and reduced accidents. Today with access to technology we can work anytime . . . and all the time. I remind myself not to confuse ‘activity with productivity’. Some of my clients are considering eliminating formal vacation time all together allowing employees sabbaticals and personal time when they need it. Employees seem to be working on their vacations anyway. The accumulated vacation time that employees do not take tends to be a burden on the company which will have to deal with long absences and affects productivity. The idea is to just eliminate vacation and allow employees to take off when they need to while communicating their absence to those who will be affected; managing for their absence; and being accountable for the void their absence will create. The employee is closest to the work and knows what to do. McDonalds’s and Starbucks are two companies that offer sabbaticals after 10 years of employment. Zappos recently allowed employees to accept a severance packages if they found that working at Zappos no longer suited their career goals or personal goals. What a brilliant way to manage productivity and keep an engaged workforce. Imagine the soft and hard dollar costs of retaining disengaged employees. Lots of good thinking in this article . . .

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