Make Work Fun Again

During the first week of baseball season in April, young superstar and reigning MVP Bryce Harper sported a ballcap with the following saying:

MAKE BASEBALL FUN AGAIN

Harper's youthful zeal and love for a game that is diminishing in popularity may seem like a trite attitude for playing a sport. But for Harper it's his job, one he works very hard at in studying, practice, and proper diet and training. Baseball is a grueling 6 month, 162-game schedule, with 2 months of spring training, another month of pressure playoffs, and off-season conditioning. Not to mention recovery from injuries and being part of the players' association. So if he chooses to approach his job as fun, why shouldn't he encourage others in his sport to do the same?

Harper's enthusiasm for his work leaves each one of us with a similar challenge in our careers, namely:

MAKE WORK FUN AGAIN

A survey of leadership and workplace articles today will inevitably find people encouraging each other to find their passion in their work. That is all well and good, but how does one make their workplace fun instead of jumping ship to find enjoyment in another job?

One of the best examples of this is the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. A struggling business after 50 years, it re-invented itself after almost going bankrupt when the owner and staff decided to make the company survive by infusing fun into their work. They started to throw fish around the market, perform improv acts with customers, and be comedic in an effort to enjoy what they do and prevent the job from being drudgery again. What happened after that is now legendary in customer service and human resource circles: news features, international recognition, training videos, books, and appearances in TV shows and movies.

Having an attitude of fun in the workplace is not an individual initiative; it's a cultural belief supported by leadership and intertwined with everyone's collective attitudes and personalities. Countless organizations that have incorporated a spirit of fun into their company DNA have stood out from others in their field: karate dojos (Beyond The Belt), commercial airlines (Southwest), music bands (Genesis), church ministries (The Wilds of North Carolina and New England), IT companies (Mainstay Technologies), and hospitality services and venues (CruCon, University of New Hampshire dining services). And of course even toy and entertainment companies have their own share of fun within their culture as well as in what they provide in services and products (the LEGO group).

There have been a great many articles written that support or argue against having fun in the workplace. But as in anything we do, whether our own personal lives or social endeavors, common sense and balance are the key. So here are four common sense reasons to make work fun again:

Science. We know that science has shown that when you enjoy an activity, you're more committed and engaged. Working in alignment with your endorphins and adrenaline creates a healthy environment. And people tend to gravitate towards the healthier environments at work. When our physical selves align with our mental selves in the workplace, we tap into a higher level of creativity, productivity, and commitment. A fun workplace will do that in ways a boring or toxic work environment can never do.

Motivation. Motivation is getting people to not be under compulsion to do a job, but to willingly engage in the work. Fun workplaces tend to be more collaborative and connected. They enhance productivity - workplace drudgery gives people a reason to look for distractions or go through the motions as they don't have the extra drive to dive into their work. As a way to improve employee engagement, making the job environment more enjoyable is a relatively easy and cost effective way to gain that edge.

Camaraderie. Do people tend to connect when there's a spirit of drudgery, or when there is a spirit of enjoyment and fun? One may argue that people tend to band together during tough times, but those situations also create divisiveness across teams. In order to bring teams and groups of teamS together, allowing your people to infuse fun and their personality gets them to lower any pretenses and sets everyone at ease to work together towards the common vision. Enjoyable workplaces can break down department walls and silos that invariably crop up in organizations.

Why Not? Is there a truly valid reason not to infuse fun into the workplace? Do new office models have to have such a sterile environment that staff can't put up pictures, candy dishes, or plants in their cubicles? Can smiling and fun be a core value? Why do some companies have fun during meetings but carry on otherwise stoic daily routines? Life is too short, and our working careers are even shorter. The organizations I listed above have a point of differentiation that helps them stand out from similar companies. They will readily admit that fun is a part of what they do, and would lose their identity and competitive edge if they took that key ingredient away.

Fun is not a gimmick or a fad, it's a state of mind. Fun does not have to be Nerf gun fights, skits, or Halloween costume days. Fun can be just a simple enjoyable workplace that allows people to exercise good humor, creativity, and passion. Those extras can enhance, but the culture of fun must be rooted in people truly enjoying their work and looking forward to the value they give and get.

Let's plan to make work fun again!