In the demanding world of front-line caring services, where the emotional and physical toll can be immense, the concept of integrating play into professional practice may seem, at first glance, counterintuitive. Yet, when I suggest to those in the trenches of caring professions that one of the keys to mitigating burnout and fatigue lies in rediscovering how they play, I am not diminishing the intensity or the emotional weight of their work. Instead, I'm inviting a shift in perspective—a reconnection with the elements of their job that ignite confidence, capability, motivation, curiosity, and creativity.
Research shows us that a mind 'in play' is flexible, actively seeks solutions beyond the usual conventions, listens to, and is receptive to a broad range of ideas from others, aiding in creating connections and collaborative solutions.
Caring front line professionals think on their feet in every moment, if we expect them to continue to find solutions, and cope then we need to know how they play.
For many caring professionals, these moments of profound engagement and joy often emerge in the direct interaction with patients, clients, and students. It's in these connections that many report feeling the most alive, where the attributes of play—confidence, curiosity, connectedness, courage, and even fun—naturally surface.We often feel "in play" when we see joy, connection, and courage in others, the essence of "play" can be a powerful, yet often overlooked, source of resilience, well-being and innovation.
The concept of play, especially in adult life and professional settings, frequently gets relegated to the background, misunderstood as merely leisure or frivolity. However, play is far more than a simple escape from the realities of our daily responsibilities. It is, as I propose, the superfood for coping and resilience. Play, in its many forms, has the profound ability to rejuvenate our spirits, enhance our creativity, and strengthen our connections with others and with the work we do.
The challenge, then, is not to add play to our lives as an extra activity, but to identify and expand upon the moments within our work that already embody the essence of play. For caring professionals, this might mean focusing on the interactions that bring a sense of fulfillment and joy, those moments when the barriers between caregiver and receiver blur, and a genuine human connection takes place.
So, how can caring professionals cultivate these moments of play within the demands of their work? It begins with noticing—recognizing those instances where you feel most engaged and alive.
Identifying Your Play: We all have a playful personality and nature. What activities or interactions within your work spark joy and creativity? How can these moments be nurtured or expanded?
Creating Space for Play: When you feel confident, connected, and capable where are you? Inside, outside? With lots of people, just a few, on your own? Is it loud and chaotic or quiet and calm? There are your optimum play environments. Can you include any of these in your day?
Sharing Play: How can the concept of play be shared with colleagues and within the broader organizational culture to foster a more supportive, resilient workplace?
In promoting the idea of play as a mechanism for coping and resilience, I am not suggesting a one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual’s version of play is as unique as their personal and professional journey. However, by exploring and embracing our own definitions of play, we can uncover a powerful tool for sustaining our well-being amidst the challenges of caring professions.
The invitation to find and embrace your "play" in the caring professions is not a call to trivialize the profound impact of your work. It is, instead, a call to recognize and leverage the transformative power of play as a source of strength, resilience, and renewal. Let us explore where and how you can find your play, to not only survive but thrive in the pursuit of caring for others.
Brandi Heather is Canada's Playful Change Maker
Employee Engagement & Burnout Prevention for The Caring Workforce