The most successful organizations aren't afraid to play. A recent study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior revealed that teams that create fun at work are also encouraging informal learning. By creating a workplace that fosters relationships between colleagues and playfulness, it's possible for your company to achieve a more-engaged workforce, lower stress levels and lowers employee turnover.

There's no right or wrong way to play, which is why your organization doesn't need the culture-building budget of Twitter or Google to make work a blast. Here are ways that five real U.S. companies have built a positive work environment, often on a near-zero budget.

1. DogVacay

It may come as no surprise, but DogVacay is an incredibly pet-friendly workplace. Not only can a pet policy reduce stress for dog-loving employees, it can foster continuous fun and bonding during the workday. If your office permits a similar arrangement, the tactic can be a powerful way to infuse your culture with a sense of play.

The Daily Muse states:

Dogs roam the beautiful, open, California workspace like they own the place. Who has time to get stressed about deadlines when there are puppies around every corner?

2. CustomInk.com

There's no reason that everyday can't be a dedicated fun day. CustomInk.com has a rotating schedule of low-cost, themed days, similar to a high school spirit week. The Washingtonian's journalists Cindy Rich and Sherry Dalphonse write that this commitment to daily fun is how CustomInk.com shows their employees that they matter:

There are contests and games to relieve stress: Riddle Tuesdays, Theme Thursdays (where teams dress in costumes), and raffles. Dress is very casual.

3. Calvert Group

Some sharp companies like Calvert Group are allowing employees to volunteer for a 30 or 60-minute presentation at a "lunch and learn," where employees bring sack lunches.

In the Washingtonian, Cindy Rich and Sherry Dalphonse state:

Monthly lunch-and-learn sessions focus on such subjects as personal safety and healthy cooking.

While your team probably wouldn't appreciate being required to sit through a 60-minute talk on advanced software development techniques, the lunch and learn format definitely can be fun. By allowing your team to present on their hobbies, like organic gardening or distance cycling, and keeping attendance voluntary, the series popularity could soar.

4. Sparta Systems

A sense of play can be developed without expensive toys or high-cost company ski trips. Letting your team play with board games can facilitate the same collaboration and shared experience of higher-cost tactics. This approach to play is used by Sparta Systems. Diana Ransom's interview on Inc revealed:

"Whenever employees want to, they can play," says CEO Eileen Martinson. "We place a high value on collaboration; the games are just one way we help support that."

5. 3M

The most meaningful team experiences can come at almost no cost. 3M is one organization who lets their employees shape their bonding experiences through ongoing peer recognition efforts. In Inc, Peter Cohan writes:

3M has a Carlton Society which recognizes outstanding employee creativity -- and the rewards are given out by the employees.

Allowing your team to sponsor an awards ceremony for peer-nominated recognition could cost almost nothing, but create goodwill and memories for years to come.

Conclusion

Engaged employees are more creative, more productive and contribute to a positive company culture. By helping your team have a blast through contests, games, learning lunches, and awards you can develop a culture that your team loves.

The secret to having fun isn't in the technique or budget. The five companies profiled here show very different approaches to rewarding their employees. However, facilitating a workspace and culture that are conducive to engaged employees can yield dividends.

(photo credit: chadmagiera on "Flickr" using CC-BY-NC-ND license.)