Why Playing at Work is Productive

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Published on
May 25, 2022

Being playful at work matters. Fact.

In 1960 British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott proposed that humans have a true and a false self. While the false self can be useful, it allows people to fit into society and behave ‘as expected’, it’s also a façade that conceals the true self. That true self is, by contrast, spontaneous, free and child-like. And you can probably guess that being your true self is the state that leads to a happier life.

Winnicott’s concept of the true and false self connects to his views on play. He suggested that play helps people be their true selves and only the true self is capable of creativity. “Play was an important path by which clients could gain awareness into their authentic emotional selves. [He] believed the therapist could help a client reveal the uninhibited child within and rediscover a true sense of being.” (Good Therapy)

Being authentic or fake are concepts familiar to us now. A few minutes on social media will provide a crash course, as the worlds of wellbeing and self-help place the notion of authenticity front and centre.

However, it’s fair to say that most of us don some kind of mask or façade for work. It’s probably not entirely fake, not a you that your friends and family wouldn’t recognise, but it is an edited version of you nonetheless. And as Winnicott said, that way of being is useful to a certain extent. But if the true self is buried deep, under layers of repression and expectation, it causes incongruence within us.

Recognising and allowing our true selves out to play has many benefits. The true self, much like a kid with a piece of blank paper to scribble on, isn’t daunted by creativity because it’s not overly concerned with failure. If a kid doesn’t like a drawing, they crumple the paper up and start again. As adults, we get a little more constipated with this process! So there are huge benefits to incorporating play at work – colleagues will talk more freely and believe in their ability to think creatively. This means better working relationships and free-flowing innovative thinking!

Self-promo! And very good way to bring play into work in a meaningful way is with an Abracademy workshop – you can choose to focus on confidence, communication, collaboration or even wellbeing. Contact our Dream Catcher, Jaxx, to find out more.

Further reading

While Winnicott’s theory of true and false self is significant, he is by no means the first or last to explore the concept. If you’d like to read more, try Freud (of course), Melanie Klein, Ronald Fairbairn, Karen Horney, Jung and his personas and, more recently, Susie Orbach’s false bodies.

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