Power of Play in Organisations: An Interview with Enoch Li (Part 2)

In this second part of interview with Enoch, we will discuss more in-depth of how each can benefit from play and how organisations can effectively carry out initiatives to support employee wellbeing.

You can read the first part of our interview with Enoch here.

Q: Do you think childhood plays a large role in our state of mental health? We tend to connect play with our childhood, however not everyone has a happy childhood, so what can they do in terms of play?

Enoch: Many people may have different childhood memories, and some people may even have traumas. I think if "play" doesn't work, then is to ask ourselves what is there in a child, what makes us glow with wonder and curiosity, and what takes us to that space where we can break free of our own chains, of our own minds, because I think we learn a lot of habits as we grow up - what is acceptable, what are people's judgments about us. So how can we break free of those chains and let our inner child shine?

When I say inner child, there is also a difference between being childish and the inner child. Childish for me means a lot more around whether something is appropriate, where inner child denotes curiosity, creativity and innovation. I don't like the phrase of "think out of the box", because in some way there is no box, and I think the inner child is that state of mind with no box to constrain.

Q: Play can be carried out by an individual, through interacting with other people, or through an object. Are there different benefits and does the format matter?

Enoch: There aren't categorized benefits for different kinds of play. In general, the benefit of play, which is proven in a lot of research through psychology, sociology, anthropology, is that it stimulates our learning. When we are in a state of play, there are different neurotrophins in our brains that get excreted. I'm not a neuroscientist, but this is what I understand - the chemicals promote different rewiring of our brains, which is what happens when we are learning.

When the rewiring happens, we build new connections, which is learning and innovation. It also reduces anxiety effects, so the hormones that promote anxiety become reduced.

That's why play is also correlated to our stress management and mental health as it promotes the chemicals that make us feel happy. That's from a neuroscientific perspective.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, it helps us to discover what is in our unconscious mind that might also be our fears and memories that we don't like. However, I think that is an important part of the self-discovery process. When advocating play, sometimes people may misunderstand, or have an immediate reaction that play equals fun and happiness, which it is, but when you go one level deeper, play can also help us unearth things that were not there before. When we observe during play, we ask ourselves why we would prefer to play on our own, rather than to play with other people. For instance, we prefer to play on our own might be because nobody sees us, and therefore no one can judge us. So that's also starting to tell things about ourselves, and that may not be so easy to take in all the time, but I think it's also a process where play becomes a channel of knowing ourselves.

Q: Can you share ways of how companies can successfully implement employee wellbeing initiatives?

Enoch: Companies often have many very good wellness initiatives globally, but one common mistake they make is that they believe they can change the company's and employees' attitudes through doing one or two workshops a year. That's why I also started the consulting side of business, instead of just holding workshops.

I found that what companies provide is not what the employees are actually concerned about in terms of mental health, so there is a big disconnect. And because of my own organizational psychology background in leadership development, I could see the miscommunication between management thinking that they have provided and the employees not being too grateful. Employees might think that the management isn't listening to them, asking questions like "why make me come to a workshop that I'm not interested in". This is where companies need to rewind.

Before implementing an initiative, they need to talk to their employees first. There are a lot of employee engagement and wellbeing surveys, but what those surveys typically assess is how the employees feel at that moment, what their engagement levels are and their internal wellbeing. However, it doesn't tell much about what the employees want in terms of mental wellness. For example, surveys may ask employees what the biggest source of their stress is, whether they have access to their managers, and if they think they work well with the team. But it doesn't ask them why. It doesn't dig deeper.

In addition to these surveys, we can conduct focus groups, where we hear a cross-section of employees and listen to their views on their mental wellness, with questions asking what does mental health mean to them, cognitively and theoretically, and what is mental health to them individually when applied to them. Until we know about their mindsets, we can't shift their mindsets.

We found that if we pick some time to listen to employees on their wants and needs, management can use the results to actually make executive decisions. For example, the company can provide 3 out of the 5 things that employees want, which can then be communicated with the employees so they know what to expect. For the other 2 things, those are also employees' responsibilities to fulfill for their own health. We cannot completely depend on the employers to take care of us. So that is a step that a lot of companies missed, where they spend money on workshops where nobody shows up, and employees are still complaining that work is still stressful. This becomes a vicious cycle.

Q: How do you see personalized benefits for employees since employees each have different needs?

Enoch: There are some foundational core benefits, such as medical insurance coverage, or access to counselors through EAP, which seem to be the core minimum so to speak. One point is that companies need to build a sense of psychological safety, i.e. employees to feel they can take a risk and actually use the services or benefits provided, such as to take a sick leave off but still be included back in the workplace, and there will be no repercussions for the employees' promotions.

Companies cannot personalize everything for every single employee. Even if companies have only 50 employees, to personalize that is impossible. But we can educate employees that they have a choice, to equip them on making a decision for themselves. We need to empower employees to take that responsibility in their own hands. Even when we do our workshops, there are particular skillset or tools that we want to give to employees, but we also stress how applicable that is to you in your life and in your work.

Self-reflection is important, because not everybody is going to like meditation or to play games or yoga, so they need to make that decision of what works for themselves.

This is helping companies to set limits, and helping employees to know what is out there, ultimately more sustainable in shifting the organizational culture.

Q: What do you do in your own time to keep a playful state of mind?

Enoch: I like to practice Chinese calligraphy. That gets me into the zone, and gets me connected between my mind and body and emotions. I still hang out with my bears sometimes, because I have kids now and they also play with the bears. I actually prefer playing on my own, because I can daydream, and it's my imagination. I also like playing jigsaw puzzles because that gratifies my OCD. As you can see, my plate is very much working with objects, because for me they have a certain emotional and sentimental value to it.

About Bearapy

Bearapy comprises a team of experts and facilitators to customize the most appropriate solution for our clients.

Our Consultants and Facilitators are certified in multiple trainings systems including: psychology, art therapy, body movement, play psychology, team dynamics, leadership and have background in corporate and management.

We also have a suite of partners with whom we work to provide a full suite of services for clients, particularly a close relationship with Encompass HK to cover wider diversity & inclusion initiatives in Asia Pacific.

We care about people and most of our team have personal experiences with psychosocial challenges that enable us to work with others in an empathetic way. We consult from experience and do not just follow the wellness fads.


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