How to Make Work Fun

As I look at the “workscape” today, I ask one question: Where’s the fun?

Many people are working extraordinary hours to keep their jobs or help their organization survive. But how can talent managers turn that labor into fun?

First, what is the difference between work and fun? Work is doing something you wouldn’t mind letting someone else do, like cleaning out the garage. Fun, meanwhile, is something that has an intrinsic reward.

If you love your job, you don’t mind putting in extra effort or time. If you dislike your job, you don’t look forward to going to work, doing the work or staying late.

So how do some companies transform work into fun?

We all read about Google and Facebook and the great perks people who work there enjoy. But not every company can afford that. I submit that the free lunch, movies, dry cleaning and foosball aren’t what make it fun.

If you want to know what makes work fun, here are two well-researched approaches.

In Frederick Herzberg’s 1959 book, “The Motivation to Work,” he found six factors to be motivating. They are achievement, recognition, the work, responsibility, advancement opportunity and growth potential. Some call it the “five factor theory,” but there were actually six in the original research.

I knew Fred. He told me his theory was often misconstrued. The opposite of motivation is not demotivation but simply lack of motivation. It’s like retiring on the job, as he put it. The company just doesn’t get any extra effort or commitment because the work isn’t intrinsically rewarding. It isn’t fun.

More recently Amy Lyman, co-founder of the Great Place to Work Institute, told me they have found five factors that make a great workplace — credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. This is topped off by the magic factor, trust.

As Bob Levering, the organization’s other co-founder, summed up, it is fun to work there.
Nowhere in these two lists do I see free lunch, games or the things we read about at places like Facebook and Google. My experience in walking around the fun companies shows that what makes work fun are most of the factors in the research presented here.

How can it be fun to sit at a computer writing code until your fingertips have blisters and your eyes bug out? Yet when I watch the people, I see them smiling, laughing and crunching their way through 50-hour weeks. Where’s the fun?

It comes from two factors. One is they really like the work and they feel achievement. Second, they can turn to a co-worker and share something interesting about the work. This is the camaraderie spirit.

But can you find as much interest in a rubber gasket factory? Maybe it’s not as exciting as new computer apps, yet where would we be without gaskets? Machines can’t function without gaskets. The point: A company doesn’t exist unless it fulfills a need, and it is up to management to keep that vision in front of the workforce.

Here’s an opposite example. Ten years ago Yahoo Inc. was an exciting place to work. It was among the leading search engines. People wanted to work there. But in the past five years management lost its way and the company lost market share. People who used to work from home and be very productive slowly lost their motivation.

When Marissa Mayer came in as CEO, she saw what was happening and significantly reduced the work-from-home option. She had to get control before she could turn Yahoo around and make it a fun place to work again.

At the end of the day, the lesson is: If you want a great company, you have to make it a great place to work. The basic elements of that are a shared vision, a trust-based atmosphere and, of course, interesting work.

Rather than concentrating on free lunches and dry cleaning, focus on the elements that make the workscape a place that can be fun and intrinsically rewarding.

Jac Fitz-enz is founder and CEO of the Human Capital Source and The Predictive Initiative. He can be reached at