• Audrey Tang

Hey "new normal" - how about we rebalance "work-life" with the addition of "play"?

Updated: 7 days ago


Fleet Street reimagined - WATG

I was listening to Green & Healthy Podcast's interview with John Goldwyn, Snr VP of WATG, and the writer of the foreword of my recent book "The Leader's Guide to Resilience", and whilst everything he says has me fired up in agreement, one particular thing stood out as John was discussing his master planning manifesto embedded into every project "...there's three main pillars which are live, work, play." Indeed there are, in architecture, 3 key spaces "1 - Home", "2 - Work", "3 - communal (eg cafes)". I noted straight away that work is not "first" in either.


Yet, as a psychologist I am often asked "how do we get the 'work-life' balance right?" - and I just as often answer:

The challenge of the work-life balance, is accepting that there may be no real “balance”, no real “equality”, but that you will have a preference for one of the two areas and when that preference is clear, then you can tip the scales in your favour suiting you and/or those around you – and that weighting may need to be adjusted many times a week, or even several times a day.


Hill (2016) summarised three key “work-life balance” fallacies from various TED speakers:

· Balance means equal (Stew Friedman): No, it means constant shifting and adjusting of your priorities to find satisfaction

· Balance is attainable (Dan Thurman): No, we are all in a constant state of flux

· You can have it all (Jim Bird): No, you have to navigate between varying priorities and find fulfilment in each daily.

“The swirl process is where many people fail…under-swirling so it looks more…bovine than marbled, or over-swirling so that it just looks muddy.”

(Dana Velden, How to Make a Marble Cake, 2013)


“Work-life balance” is perhaps like that marble cake – you need to swirl to your taste – blended, but not muddy, and each person has their own preference, and individual method of swirling. BUT, most bakers would agree however, that when making a marble cake both flavours are first created separately so that is a good place to start psychologically too:

1. Identify what you want from your working life.

2. Identify what you want from your family life.

Then chart your pathway.


But how about we throw in "play"?

From my adult, analytical perspective, we know that "play" is an important part of growth. It teaches cognitive skills (such as problem solving), along with imagination; emotional skills as children start to work in teams - and learn about (hopefully good natured) winning and losing...and trying again; and physical skills including dexterity and game-specific abilities. As a trainer there is a growing movement to add "gamification" elements to motivate adult learners eg: unlocking achievements, a leader board - I personally also use physical games such as a "table-top escape room" to engage and promote reflection. Play is also a key element of the hobbies that engage us after work - organised sports, pub quizzes, time with our children. But in all of these areas, play is a "tool", a "means to an end."


I believe John is talking about play, simply for play's sake!


Playing for play's sake

Have you played today?

"Escape room" puzzles in TLGtR

Whether a compliment or not, the first thing my husband said when he flicked through "The Leader's Guide to Resilience" was "Ooh, it has puzzles in it." He loves puzzles - he does them for fun. As a psychologist I can also go on about how they can help keep our minds engaged and focused which may give some fortitude against Alzheimer's (the research is inconclusive), and will certainly remind you that you can learn new things - but that's not what he's thinking when he does them...he just likes puzzles.


So can you play for play's sake? (...and yes, you will indeed benefit from a sense of enjoyment and laughter (which in turn helps relieve pain, and even burns calories); you may unlock greater creativity especially if you are using your imagination; and maybe it'll deepen the bond with those you're playing alongside...) But for now, maybe just for a moment...just play.

Zorlu Centre, WATG - play on the urban piazza

Ways to play

What a tall order for an adult "just play"...so maybe try these ideas:

Imagination: Turn the following symbols into a drawing < / %

Social: Try to get the word "Penguin" into a sentence today...extra "points" if you manage it in the work context (Note: use that with care of course!!)

Reaction time: "Yellow flower" - Out of respect for this article being inspired by the pioneering mind to reduce the number of cars and reclaim the streets with greenery - this is a variation on "Yellow Car" - where you "get points" for spotting a yellow car first. Perhaps this becomes more of a game when the daffodils have given way to hyacinths.

Physical: "Monsters" - A great game with younger children - take it in turns calling out the number of arms and legs a "Monster" should have, and together (as a group - and being mindful of safety) you need to make sure that that number of arms and legs are touching the ground.

Challenge: Recite the alphabet backwards - and see how quickly you can do it.


I notice myself, that in two of the examples I gave, I have had to include "caveats" - what a way to "spoil the fun" - no wonder we play less in a world ever-more dominated by rules. So how about we look at the dictionary definition:

"Play" is "...activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation."

And return to my earlier questions:

1. Identify what you want from your working life.

2. Identify what you want from your family life.

NOW add a way (or as many ways as possible) that you can include a sense of enjoyment and recreation into both.

Perhaps that means you need to 3. Identify what you enjoy recreationally - go ahead! And as to the marble cake - if it's muddy it's muddy - incorporating play is not about making the cake, it's about smiling, laughing - and maybe tapping into that "unadulterated" (I think seeing the word "adult" in there is significant!) childhood joy. It's about remembering that happiness (which is really what we want when we look at the "work-life balance") is not a goal - it's a state...a state you can choose any time you wish (at work, and in life) - and if you need a little help, play might just do it.



Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.

For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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