What’s Wrong With A Little Fun?

Have you ever thought of work as fun? As a manager, do you think it is wasteful to have fun at work? Does your organization recognize that fun is an essential element in the life of a human being? In times such as these, maybe we need to rethink our notion of fun.

When people have time to spare, some go bowling, play bridge, golf or enjoy gardening. Others enjoy intellectual pursuits. My doctor studies ancient cultures and loves to share his knowledge of how many of today’s phenomena had a home 4,000 years ago in Crete, Persia and Mesopotamia. It was through him that I learned the Babylonians and Assyrians invented the wheel, sundial and astrology.

Although it is among the most common terms, just what does constitute fun? When people are challenged to think deeply, solve puzzles and learn something new, they are likely to enjoy the experience and view it as fun. A change from routine activities appears to be at the core. It seems to me this calls for a new way of working; one in which fun becomes part of the task.

If your job is pretty routine, repeatedly going through the same process, you probably don’t see it as fun. At least, you wouldn’t mind having a break in the routine to refresh yourself, would you? In the olden times we took a cigarette break. That 10- to 15-minute release from the routine was very helpful, even if it did give you lung cancer.

Today, we need a break, a little fun that doesn’t imperil our lives. Further, we need to find a way to make fun part of the daily job. I’m talking about small on-the-job breaks that are actually stimulating and fun and might even have some value for the organization.

A long time ago when I was running an HR department we used to have the “Friday afternoon three o’clock question.” Each Monday we would pose a question to the whole staff, about 30 of us at the time, that needed an answer the following Friday. Everyone was obligated to participate. It was an important part of the job and the work group because it helped us solve problems, and it gave everyone a chance to participate in building a cohesive department.

The staff could answer the question in pairs if they were shy, but after the first week or two shyness disappeared, and everyone joined in. The question was usually a business subject like: What should we do about X? Sometimes it was personal such as: Tell us something about yourself that you think is funny. Everyone was protected in that they did not have to disclose anything too personal. But it’s surprising how personal it got. Still, in the five years we did this I never had a complaint from a staff member, directly or indirectly.

This little quiz show took place on Friday afternoons when most people were ready to call it a week anyway. Everyone knows that often we slow down and begin to plan our weekend in the last hour. So, we weren’t losing any measurable productivity. The best part was that we were sending people out the door refreshed, laughing, happy and appreciated rather than dragging and exhausted.

So, what about you? Can you think of something funny about yourself that you could share? It could be a quirky habit or even a mistake you made such as putting on different colored shoes in the early morning darkness. Who hasn’t done that? Share your thoughts. It could make for a fun Friday afternoon.

Work is about people; whole human beings who work, love, share, complain, play and have fun. If we latch onto the whole being I believe that we naturally get engagement, greater commitment, productivity and trust. Perhaps labor laws and social correctness have wrapped us too tightly in cocoons, afraid to live fully on the job. I say, let’s trust people. Let’s test them. If we design a workplace that is fully human, I truly believe we will see performance well beyond the norm and attrition well below it.