Fun at Work: Not an Oxymoron

Are you having fun yet?

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.

scary clown having fun at work

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.)

Ways to Make it Fun at Work Again:

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.

Fun competition:

  • Board game nights
  • Ongoing Scrabble tournament in office (use this amazing wall-size board)
  • Giant Jenga games
  • Sports tournaments, ideally not by department
  • Indoor bowling contests
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Blind baking contest (leadership team tastes and rates each baked entry)
  • Hosting a talent show

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

Random silliness:

  • 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.

Words of wisdom about making work fun:

“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

Jodi Wellman

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