Our last post dealt with the degree to which your workplace is filled with children or adults. Several readers commented after the post on how their workplace was similar to a playground. Although the comments were more related to the negative facets of emulating a playground at work, there are some very desirable characteristics that any workplace should strive to preserve. Not surprisingly, this has been a theme among a few business authors in the past. Eve Tahmincioglu’s book From the Sandbox to the Corner Office, Alan Gregerman’s Lessons from the Sandbox, as well a number of blogs discuss how what we learn as children follow us our whole lives and can be very beneficial to our professional success (an example of a blog posting can be found at: http://sallystrove.hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Play-Nice-in-Lifes-Sandbox-5-Lessons-Learned-in-Childhood).
As children we all played on a playground or as adults have watched our own children play there. So, what is it about playgrounds that we want to recreate in our workplace?
Environment needs to be safe – By design, a playground provides a safe, contained, and age appropriate environment for children to enjoy themselves and others. A child quickly understands that boundaries of the park and the protection it affords from cars and other threats. The presence of a parent provides a sense of security that allows the child to explore and engage, yet with the comfort of knowing that support is close by, if needed.
Employees desire a similar sense of security at work. They want to feel confident that the workplace is safe of violence, intimidation, and harassment. They want to know that they can express their ideas in a collegial environment that recognizes their contribution and accepts that mistakes do periodically occur. Moreover, an employee wants to know that their supervisor supports them.
Environment with challenges – Although safety is very important, it is also important that a playground provides a sense of accomplishment to children when they master various aspects of the experience. A recent New York Times article discussed the fallacy of making a playground too boring and losing the interest of children (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/science/19tierney.html). The article discusses a studies conducted by Dr. Sandseter in Norway, England, and Australia that identified six categories of risk of most interest to children: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements, rough play, and being alone away from adult supervision. Across the studies, he found that the most common is climbing heights.
Just like at the playground, employees are most engaged when they have an environment that possesses challenges and opportunities for rewarding accomplishments.
Environment that accommodates differences – It is not uncommon to see children in various stages of social development, emotions, and behaviors all engaging each other in this communal setting. There are those child running, laughing, and playing that are eternally happy and never want to leave the playground. Others will be crying for a variety of reasons, but crying at a place of fun nonetheless. Some will be bullying other children just as some will not leave the safety of their parent or caregiver for fear of being threatened. Although the environment and opportunity is the same, the reaction can be very different to the somewhat engaging, yet stressful social environment.
As leaders and human resource professionals, we are charged with creating an environment that accommodates different personalities, skill levels, social backgrounds, genders, races, and other characteristics. Understanding diversity and creating environments conducive to success are key parts of our role.