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January 2, 2008 > Put a little play back in your day

Put a little play back in your day

(ARA) - So when did life become all work and no play? In the recent study No Vacation Nation (2007), the U.S. Center for Economic and Policy Research found that among the 21 richest countries in the world, the United States is the only nation where paid vacation time is not guaranteed by law. And when time off is offered, it is still usually less than what other countries such as France, Australia and Japan offer.

Before heading up to Human Resources to complain, however, take a closer look at your own work habits. Similar studies found that the average American only uses a portion of his or her vacation time, and even then, many tend to take their work with them. A shift in American work habits from the 1950s is often cited as the cause, but this change in attitude was not a subtle generational one; rather, it was distinct, and, for most, happened sometime around the sixth grade.

With visions of junior high and high school running through young heads, reality crashed through with three simple words, "no more recess." This rite of passage is meant to signify a transition to adulthood. It is the time when words like "playtime" and "fun" are pushed aside for more mature words, such as "responsibility" and "deadline", and eventually, "time management" and "overtime." And so with little resistance, Americans concede that playtime is over.

But the desire to have fun on the schedule isn't just kid stuff. According to a survey conducted by Nestle Crunch Crisp, 70 percent of Americans wish they could have a recess break sometime during their workday. And doing so might actually be to their employer's benefit. An earlier article in Fortune magazine confirms employee motivation and creativity, sparked by activities such as "play," can increase office productivity up to 127 percent.

Finding ways to put a little play in your day can also increase the levels of satisfaction experienced at work. Yet despite these benefits, the Nestle survey found that at 42 percent, almost half of Americans think their workday contains no play whatsoever, and only 39 percent felt theirs was a fun or playful workplace.

It may be time for Americans to take recess back - dodge ball is optional. Here are some tips for giving yourself the work-day recess you deserve.

* The only wasted vacation is the one not taken.
Schedule your vacation time well in advance. If you end up taking a trip, that's great. If not, even better - you get to sleep in and catch up on all those things you've been too busy to tackle.

* Propose a new team builder.
Did you know you can learn more about a person from playing a game with them than from 10 interactions? A staff meeting may teach everyone more about the next fiscal year, but a staff game night could teach them more about their teammates working styles.

* Plan for play.
Keep some things in your desk that will help you relax during short breaks. Maybe you like to spend a couple of minutes with a crossword or cell phone solitaire. What about a miniature Zen rock garden to take your mind off things?

* Forecast a reward.
You probably can't grab a massage every afternoon, but you can plan a reward for yourself every day - lunch with a friend, an afternoon snack, or really leaving by 6 p.m.

* Shake up the interview.
Trying to find a new team member? Don't just sit there; take applicants for a walk and see how quick they are on their feet. They'll get to impress you with their best qualities, and you'll get some exercise and fresh air.

* Test your sense memory.
Tastes and aromas can often be tied to memories, like hotdogs and baseball games, or movie popcorn and a really good date.

Whatever play means to you, understand that it is a necessary part of a healthy work-life balance. No, you are not being paid to play games, but if taking even ten minutes to surf the Internet helps you come back and focus more on the task at hand, don't you think your boss would give you a permission slip to visit

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