Workers of the World … Unite! (And Have Fun)

January 28th is “National Have Fun at Work Day” which is cool except that it’s on a Saturday this year and most of America won’t be at work. They’ll be out celebrating their own “National Have Fun (Because You’re Off ) Work Day.”  However, instead of mocking the creators of “NHFAW Day” for their short-sighted plan of picking a specific day that hits on a weekend every few years and not just making it the last Friday in January, we’ll take the spirit of the day into consideration and ask you a simple question: Are you having enough fun at work?

If your answer is “yes,” then congratulations … you’re one of the lucky ones. Most other employees in the country are on the other end of the spectrum, and even their human resources departments acknowledge it.

A recent research study showed that 75 percent of the human resource executives and managers surveyed believed their employees did not have enough fun at work. Furthermore, the three “fun activities” used by most companies were (in order of popularity) casual dress days (84 percent), employee recognition (83 percent) and company-provided food and refreshments (82 percent).

While employees definitely appreciate that, those three things don’t exactly move the needle on the “Fun-o-meter” very far. These days, it takes a little more than that to engage your workers.

What is so important about fun at work?

The topic of fun at work has increased the last few years with the influx of the Millennial generation (people born between 1982 and 2000) into the workforce. With Millennials making up the bulk of the labor pool now, the demands for companies that engage them, challenge them and let them have fun at work while doing it is increasing.

Productivity experts almost universally agree that all work and no play in the office leads to employee burnout, increased absenteeism, lower morale and higher turnover. However, add a little bit of fun and that all turns around.

In many companies, the biggest hurdle to having fun at work is a clash of culture and work ethic with conservative senior management who set the tone of the work environment. They write the rules about work, responsibilities of the job and general office decorum.  In 2017, senior management is still made up of mostly baby boomers (born 1946 – 1964). This is the generation that still remember the days when “business casual” meant women could wear slacks instead of a skirt or dress … a fax machine was high-tech … and the computer age dawned with the company having one IBM computer on a desk that the entire department shared (complete with floppy disks).

In other words, boomers who grew up in business during a different era probably have a 180-degree difference of opinion with Millennials about what constitutes “fun” in the workplace.

For some boomers, the thought of putting a pool table, basketball hoop or video game console in the break room is an affront to their senses. This is the 60-hour workweek workaholic generation and, especially if they are in upper management, they live by the equation work ethic = worth ethic.

So, if you are a worker who is craving a little more engagement and excitement at work, what is the solution to make both sides happy if management is reluctant to conform?

  • Management loves data, so if you’re trying to convince a hesitant executive to loosen up the reins, grab research that shows what happens to a company’s bottom line when employees have fun. Use examples of other organizations that encourage their employees to have fun. It’s not just ad agencies, start-ups and tech companies that have the monopoly on fun … traditional companies do it as well.
  • Remind them that “fun” does not necessarily have to take the form of humor or silliness. Providing challenging projects to employees that fit outside their normal responsibilities and comfort zones will give workers a mental kick-start, especially Millennials. In addition, crosstraining builds unity throughout the organization as employees meet more of their co-workers. Workers of all ages who are engaged come to work with smiles on their faces and positive attitudes.
  • Other things, such as mentoring programs, are fantastic bridges between generations as knowledge is passed on. In many cases, knowledge becomes a two-way street as the veteran worker who might be a little stuck in their ways learns a new approach to the job from a younger counterpart.

If management is still hesitant, present ideas that start off small and won’t cost the company much, if any, money to support. For example:

  • Organize informal get-togethers after work for your department at a bar or restaurant once or twice a month. It strengthens the team and allows co-workers to get to know each other outside of work.
  • Download a holiday and national day calendar like this one from TrackMaven that lists monthly, weekly, and daily holidays and observances. Plan events around things like “Dump Your Significant Jerk Week,” (February 7-13, right before Valentine’s Day). Share funny stories on a bulletin board about people you used to date that were just embarrassing. If you can stand posting a picture with that hairstyle you sported in high school, do it. Have a contest to pick the best one and the winner gets an appropriate prize.
  • Have cartoon caption contests. Using the bulletin board approach, send copies of a cartoon around before a meeting. Everyone that wants to participate submits a caption to the cartoon in advance. Take a few minutes when the meeting starts to vote on the funniest caption. Then post it on the bulletin board afterward for the week with the winner’s name.
  • Let fun sweep throughout the organization! Use the example of this company: While looking for something to bring a little sunshine into the workplace after a harsh winter, an administrative assistant in the marketing department of a medium-sized Midwestern company found an arts and crafts supplier for small undecorated ceramic cows that cost $3 each. She bought 10 figurines and let anyone in Marketing who wanted to participate in a cow decorating contest buy one. When hilariously decorated cows showed up on desks and file cabinets in the department, employees throughout the company took notice. Soon, more orders came flying in. Five weeks after those first 10 cows were bought, dozens of decorated cows entered the contest. The little ceramic bovines spent a week in an unused conference room (decorated by a few ladies in accounting), and workers stopped in to vote for their three favorite cows. Management announced that, when the contest ended, the cows would be auctioned off and the proceeds would be matched by the company and given to a local food bank. The CEO even sprung for a Friday afternoon party with hay bales, fiddlers and barbeque in the parking lot to announce the winner and hold the auction. Afterwards, the charity received a nice check … a legendary company contest grew … and the company enjoyed an outstanding spring in all phases of the business.

With luck, management in your company will recognize the benefits of loosening up and get an engaged and happy workforce. When that happens, create a “Fun Committee” made up of people all across the organization and plan some events appropriate for your business and employees. Until then, have fun anyway!


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