Years ago, I found myself in a job that JUST WASN’T FUN ANYMORE. I complained about it just like that, too – in an all-caps, whiny-voiced kind of way that likely made The Husband feel the same way about his life (or at least about me).
I’ve had jobs that were riddled with fun over my career, which for me means I’ve worked with people who loved to laugh as much as they loved to work hard and win. That’s an important distinction – I’m not talking about working at a clown school (because that would be terrifying), all fun and games and ping pong tables and stuffing yourselves into clown cars. I’m talking about high-pressure environments where “work hard, play hard” were words to live by, workplaces where steam needed to be blown off with people who could make you laugh hard enough to have things come out your nose in the middle of a project status meeting.
But as I said, I found myself in a job where I hadn’t snorted anything out of my nose in a very long time, and that was telling. Fun matters to me, and I was in a decidedly un-fun situation at work. So I promptly did nothing about it except complain at home. Super productive!
I shudder when I look back on that phase, because a) my whiny voice is so not flattering, b) can you call a few years a “phase?”, and c) I see now that I was acting like a helpless victim in the midst of a situation that was almost entirely within my control. When things just aren’t fun anymore, whose job is it to make it fun again? I was a leader in the organization I was having no fun at, so shame on me for not taking charge and making it fun. Because as a leader if I wasn’t having fun, I can make a pretty good educated guess that my team members weren’t either.
Even if fun isn’t in your top ten list of values, enjoying your job and the people you work with matters. Research confirms that having fun at work makes us more productive and engaged, creates a better learning environment, supports that happier people do better in their careers, and “A manager's support for fun actually mattered more than his or her support for learning.” (Science can be so convenient to drive a point home.)
These are some ways some of our most successful clients make their workplaces fun:
Social time between colleagues:
Ensuring team members do anything but sit alone at their desks for lunch
Inviting people from other departments into meetings to share opinions
Scheduling regular happy hours (e.g.: first Thursday of the month)
Encouraging team members take 15-minute outdoor walking breaks together, ideally not from the same department
Buying a team lunch every Wednesday, and asking everyone to eat in the boardroom
Having a potluck breakfast each month where everyone brings their favorite cereal
Sharing a team coffee break
Celebrating key events: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc.
Rewards and recognition:
Monthly team meeting where team members read notes of appreciation written about them throughout the month from their colleagues
Annual all-team awards celebration and dinner, with both serious and silly awards given
Publishing a yearbook with “most likely to…” descriptions for each team member
“Mistake of the Month” club to celebrate screw-ups and lessons learned (in a fun and constructive way, not a tattling, bullying kind of way)
Creating a Wall of Fame to include thank you notes/ letters, news clippings, etc.
Work environment/ processes:
Having standing meetings to increase productivity and employee health
Creating comfortable sitting areas for people to work, socialize, get creative
Instilling flexible hours for team members to take time off for hobbies outside of work and volunteering
Meeting with each team member to make sure they are working on projects that interest/ excite them
Creating a Fun Taskforce to own the goal of making the workplace fun
Adopting an office pet
Creating a “Before I Die” wall or a bucket list wall for team members to share their life goals
Caretaking for the office plant moved from office to office
Providing a new snack each month (one client gave papayas)
Practical joke of the month
Regularly refreshed team room/ kitchen bulletin board with jokes, cartoons, photos (of team members as kids/ in high school/ Halloween costumes in October)
If you’re a leader, you have the ability to kick off these kinds of fun initiatives. (With the understanding, please, that you can’t force fun… and that your ideas of what might be fun might go over like a lead balloon with your team. You do know that, right?) Get help from a diverse group in your office just in case you’re tone deaf about what your team might find fun.
If you’re not a leader and you’re sitting in a festering pool of “it’s so not fun here,” don’t complain about it. Do something about it. It’s up to you to influence your manager to let you take the ball and run with it. To blasphemously bastardize Gandhi, You be the fun you want to see in your office. Or something like that.
Words of wisdom from three brilliant people:
“Fun is one of the most important - and underrated - ingredients in any successful venture. If you're not having fun, then it's probably time to call it quits and try something else.” Richard Branson
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Dale Carnegie
“Life is too short to not have fun; we are only here for a short time compared to the sun and the moon and all that.” Coolio