Creating a Red Rubber Ball Moment in the Workplace

Play benefits & red rubber ball moments in the office

Have you ever had a red rubber ball moment?  Kevin Carroll, author of the Red Rubber Ball Book Series describes these as when play transform even tense, high-stakes moments into pure fun and result in deep connections formed that can last a lifetime.

Creating a Red Rubber Ball Moment in the Workplace

My first experience in a post-college and professional environment was while working for Target Corporation as part of the company’s store management team in an HR capacity.  My official title was Executive Team Leader of Team Relations or ETL-TR for short.  While I worked exhausting hours and two to three weekends a month, I regularly visited the store on my day’s off to spend time with my co-workers over breakfast, dinner, or just checking in.  Even over ten years later, many of my fellow managers remain my friends, and our secret store handshake remains a secret to this day.  We have a red rubber ball moment nearly every single day.

For animals, play often ends when animals become adults.  Humans however are different.  They are designed to play throughout their lifespan.  It’s what drives our dreams, productivity, and our desires.

Imagine a world without vacations, sports cars., college football and tailgating or even creative hobbies like painting and photography.  Bottom line is that you can’t.  Life would be empty and bleak because e without creativity as humans, we aren’t truly whole.

And that’s the exact problem with most workplaces today.

Forty years worth of research by Stewart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and founder of the Carmel Valley National Institute of Play found that some of the highest achievers in business, science, and arts have incorporated the concept of play into an important part of their lives including business.

Play is such an integral part in the success of adults that he believes the opposite of play is not work.  It’s depression.

And I tend to agree.

Imagine just for a moment the worst job you ever had.  I’m positive you counted the minutes, possibly seconds until your shift ended.  You made a b-line for the door, and when you left you felt no remorse when you tunred in your resignation.  And that’s if you even gave notice.  And maybe you told your friends and family the job sucked your soul.  And quite possibly you were right.   It lacked fun.  Maybe no one gave a damn.  There was no play.

The difference between an engaged and disengaged workforce in most situations should be based on a company culture’s level of play within the workplace.  Disengagement should be seen as a level of interest, a feeling, much like being in love.  For your workforce you’re either in love with your employer or you’re not.  Adding the concept of play and encouraging this environment within your company culture or department aids in fostering employee engagement.  For your company, play is a leading cause and result of falling in love.  It’s the foundation of what Tony Hsieh talks about when he describes the culture at Zappos.  Employees are free to be themselves and are encouraged to play at work.  Making for an environment that has a lasting impact on not only their employees but the customers in which they delight.  Because if playing was easy, Delivering Happiness wouldn’t be a best selling book.

How are you encouraging red rubber ball moments in your office?  And how do you measure play’s benefits?

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. @russkle says

    I have a favorite “rubber ball moment” I’d like to share…

    I worked for a software company and every six-months we had a new release. This is a very stressful time for developers. I had been on medical leave and returned to work during one of these blessed events. One of my peers had grown a bushy mustache while I was gone and it was my duty to tease him about it. So I printed out a picture of a mustachioed Peter Griffin from The Family Guy with his quote “With great mustache comes great responsibility” and posted it outside his cubicle. I should mention that his cubicle was unavoidable for anyone entering the building. People would walk by, read the quote, laugh, and move on.

    The next day, someone had added a photo of a celebrity that also had an iconic mustache. Everyday we would come back in with anonymous postings of new ‘stashes. Before long the entire wall was covered. I’d like to think that this eased the stress of a software release… My boss would wonder why we ran out of color laser toner so quickly that quarter.

    Picture Proof:

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Thanks for the comment, @russkle. I love your red rubber ball moment. We need more of these in the workplace or otherwise, we’re going to loose our key players in the office.

      Thanks for sharing!


  2. Margaret Baza says

    What a fantastic article. This is the first I’ve ever heard of the Red Rubber Moment at work. I can honestly feel this will work at my job site to enhance performance and employee engagement.
    Thanks for shareing!

  3. Chloe says

    I almost thought your website wasn’t for me because I can’t figure out how my blog has anything at all to do with my job.

    But your post here nailed it. My job has NO red rubber ball moments and my blog is my red rubber ball. I work for a soul-sucking, life-draining corporation that treats the human resource like expendable widgets. If you are caught playing then that is evidence that you aren’t working hard enough and probably ought to be sent home. The playful among us hide our play or face the wrath of management.

    You’ve given me some serious food for thought here.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Thanks for visiting the blog, Chloe. I’m glad this post got you thinking. I’ll take a look at your blog but there is plenty of ways you can incorporate your work into your blog. Since you are an RN, you could write about ways to make a better beside manner or how to handle upset clients or complicated situations. I’m certain you have plenty.



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