By Leslie Yerkes
Each of us spends more time at work than we do at any other single activity. In fact, our coworkers see more of us during the week than do our families. But, as you may have noticed, most of the time, work isn’t really much fun. Why can’t we integrate work and fun?
Here’s what our culture teaches us about work and fun:
- Fun must be earned, so it is permissible only after our work has been completed.
- Fun is by definition silly, superficial, and unprofessional.
- The unwritten rule in business is that fun in the workplace is taboo.
Yet, there are companies where fun and work coexist, where the existence of one does not preclude the existence of the other. In these companies the prevailing wisdom is that the symbiotic relationship of fun and work can actually improve the bottom line.
Companies that are successful in the long run integrate some, part, or all of the following “11 Fun/Work Fusion Principles.” I hope you’ll try them. I promise you’ll see a positive effect on both morale and the bottom line.
Fun/Work Fusion Principles
- Give Permission to Perform. Allow individuals to bring the best of their whole selves to work each day. To be effective, this principle requires a competent and confident leader who can create the vision, set the tone, and instill the belief that integration of fun and work will lead to outstanding results.
- Challenge Your Bias. Remove self-imposed obstacles to personal fulfillment. Our belief that “when work is done we can have some fun” is the strongest obstacle we face.
- Capitalize on the Spontaneous. Be open to new ideas and freely apply them. Encourage thinking and acting outside the box. This is not a program but a philosophy. Fun doesn't necessarily happen on schedule; it grows in a culture that fosters its existence.
- Trust the Process. You can’t strong-arm energy. A forced laugh is not a true laugh. Americans are experts at task orientation: we thrive on to-do lists. We need help, however, with process orientation. We need to trust our people and trust the process and then stand out of people’s way.
- Value a Diversity of Fun Styles. There is no right or wrong way to engage in serious fun. Be inclusive and share your fun energy with your organization’s internal and external constituents.
- Expand the Boundaries. Don’t start making rules to limit the process. Allow all individuals involved to help create the boundaries of the playing field.
- Be Authentic. Where do you begin? All that is required is willingness. To truly understand how work and fun integrate is to accept that it is a state ofbeing, not a state of doing.
- Give Yourself Permission to Have Fun. Embrace yourself as a whole person. Fun is deciding to bring the best of your whole self to work every day. It is not something you choose to do; it is something you choose to be.
- Hire Good People and Get Out of the Way. If you trust your employees with your organization’s most valuable assets, why not trust them to use their judgment on bringing fun to their work? When the fun is in the work and results from the satisfaction of good work and working relationships, then there is little risk of a “when the cat's away the mice will play” mentality.
- Embrace a Risk-taking Mentality. A culture that promotes risk taking and expansive thinking promotes development of employees’ full potential. To be successful at risk taking, we must overcome our fear of failure.
- Celebrate Often. There is nothing more fun than the celebration of a success. What gets recognized gets repeated. Individual recognition and group celebration fuel high performance.
Of course the big question is, do the fun/work fusion principles work in real life? The answer is a resounding yes. The first edition of Fun Works: Creating Places Where People Love to Work told the stories of 11 companies, with each one representing one of the fun/work principles. The staff and management of each gave glowing reports of life in an environment where fun and work coexist.
Six years later we revisited the same companies for the second edition of Fun Works. Each of the companies was more successful than they were six years earlier; some because they grew and expanded, some because they were absorbed or acquired because they were both fun and profitable.
To be successful, organizations must have a good vision, a good mission, a good action plan, and a good product. To be sustainable, this hard science has to be supported by effective soft science. There must be a culture of engagement in place that makes work fun. Both hard and soft sciences are equal in importance, yet it is the soft science that ultimately differentiates and contributes the most to long-term, sustainable success.
No longer is a culture of engagement a “nice to have”; today, it is a “need to have.” To survive, organizations need to place equal emphasis on hard and soft sciences, on both fun and work.
About the Author(s)
Leslie Yerkes is president of Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc. (www.changeisfun.com) an organizational development and change management consulting firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a coauthor of 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work; Beans: Four Principles for Running a Business in Good Times or Bad; and They Just Don’t Get It! Changing Resistance into Understanding. She is on the faculty at the Weatherhead Dively Center of Executive Education and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University.