Are We Having Fun Yet?

Having fun and working successfully used to be considered incongruent. The workplace was viewed as a monument to serious business only. The standard philosophy was that safety, quality, and productivity would be negatively affected if employees were distracted and having fun instead of focusing on their work. But humor and having fun are natural human reactions. Each plays an important role in regulating interpersonal relations, for reducing stress and in helping people keep their perspective. It also serves as an invaluable team-building tool, and platform for improving morale.

Generational differences play a large role in how workers view their jobs and having fun. Millennials are more at ease with diversity, technology, and online communication than are other generations. In general, they have high expectations and seek meaning in their work, but also regard their jobs as a means to build their career résumé, rather than looking for long-term attachment or commitment to the organization that better defines the Baby Boomers.

Millennials see a stronger association between workplace fun and individual outcomes than do other generations. In fact, this age group often considers fun in the workplace a requirement, rather than a benefit, and seeks balance and synergy between their personal and work lives. In this evolving workplace model, employees expect purposefully designed fun activities that are linked to organizational outcomes like enhanced productivity, increased innovation, stronger teams and customer service, stress reduction, and improved retention.

Employees today enjoy social activities such as company-wide outings and food-related activities, internal contests, sports, and athletic competitions. Fun and inclusiveness go hand in hand, so offering special events and programs that are open to all workers is important.

Employers learned long ago the value of dress-down days and casual Fridays but since most workplaces are business casual or informal in their dress expectations, those perks are no longer seen as special. Other ideas worth considering for boosting the fun factor at work include:

  • Favorite team jersey days. Baseball favorites in this region seem to be split fairly evening between the Red Sox and the Yankees, with a smattering of Mets and other teams. Let everyone wear their colors to work and celebrate other sports as well as baseball.
  • Healthy breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, either sponsored by the employer, or have staff bring in food to share with their co-workers. Healthy recipe exchanges, a smoothie or coffee bar, and dessert station also are fun, as are barbeques in the warm weather.
  • Attend a sporting event. Offer tickets to a baseball, basketball, hockey, road race, or other sports activity locally including minor league or college sports, and open participation to all employees and possibly their families or guests.
  • Encourage team events. These can include softball, basketball, skiing, bowling, volleyball, exercise or fitness activities, charity walks, and bike rides, whatever appeals to your workforce. The buzz from these activities is bound to carry over into the office as well.
  • Establish an internal social network. While compliance and HR rules apply, people can post information, talk about service issues, make suggestions, respond to those suggestions, post funny articles, YouTube and Facebook links, and much more.
  • Host seasonal fun activities. These can be pumpkin-carving contests, events linked to the Super Bowl, World Series, or Daytona 500, or whatever floats people’s boats.
  • Encourage the creative personalization of individual work spaces. Nothing over the top, of course, but we spend a lot of time at work, so our work space should be able to reflect who we are and who or what we care for outside of work.
  • Celebrate wins. There’s nothing better than bringing people together to celebrate a successful launch, achieving a business goal, to recognize service, acknowledge awards, or to simply thank employees for their hard work and support. It should include food, special guests, premium gifts, and whatever else you or a planning group have in mind.
  • Use meetings to recognize team or individual contributions. Meetings have a purpose, but they’re also a great time for peer recognition. Celebrate one another, and consider gift cards and other informal recognition tools.
  • Create a “fun” committee. Let a group of volunteers come together to solicit ideas and plan activities that will be well received, rather than guessing what people might like. And consider giving them a small budget to help get programming off the ground.

The bottom line is that having fun at work doesn’t have to be work, or all about work. It’s about understanding people’s needs, teamwork and, literally, the bottom line.