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Culture + EX

5 Ways To Actually Have Fun at Work

Cat DiStasio

External Contributor - HR Expert (& Huge Geek)

10 Apr 2024

Cat DiStasio explores the benefits of having fun at work and how leaders can incorporate it more organically into their company's day-to-day. 

 

The ability to have fun at work is nearly synonymous with high employee engagement. In fact, a whopping 81% of employees at companies ranked as “great” described their office environments as fun, according to a study of data from Great Places to Work and cited by Harvard Business Review.

If you have to spend 40ish hours of your week at work, having some fun in the process is likely to make you a little happier and possibly even more productive.

The trouble with fun is that it’s not something organizational leaders can easily manufacture. You can’t bring in a tower of pizzas and order everyone to start having fun. Yet, some companies are still clinging to these thinly veiled attempts at marking off boxes on their employee engagement checklist.

We’ve all heard the adages. “Work hard, play hard.” (c. 1827) “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” (c. 1659) “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (Confucius 551–479 BCE, maybe.)

It’s clear that people have questioned the relationship between work and fun for as long as work has existed. What’s taking us so long to figure it out?

As it turns out, the concept of fun in the workplace can be pretty tricky. As I mentioned earlier, attempts at designated ‘fun time’ can fall flat. In this article, I’ll look further into the benefits of fun in the workplace, what’s holding us back, and what we can all do (especially business leaders) to finally have some honest to goodness fun on the job.

Benefits of having fun at work

This part seems like kind of a no-brainer, but it’s that same common-sense obviousness that can lead people to take fun for granted. Fun makes people happy and happy employees are more likely to show up to work engaged and enthusiastic about their jobs, collaborate better with colleagues, and bring innovative new ideas and solutions to the table.

The same HBR article I mentioned earlier championed the idea of having fun at work, touting its positive impacts on engagement, creativity, and purpose, which all in turn contribute to better employee retention.

Indeed backs up this notion and ups the ante, associating having fun at work with lower stress levels and better resilience – two key elements that help employees support their personal mental health and contribute to a healthier work culture for all involved.  

What gets in the way of having fun at work?

Between human nature’s gravitation toward fun and the long list of benefits of fun in the workplace, why do we have so much trouble finding ways to have fun at work? Unsurprisingly, there are a variety of reasons.


Work culture

Many of us take work far, far too seriously. Of course, there are times when work should be serious and jokes are not appropriate. But the idea that we can never have fun at work or that fun is somehow detrimental to work is just not true. It’s an outdated way of thinking that clings to a binary model,  in which work and play are two completely separate modes of being.


Fear of repercussions

If you’ve ever met a particularly fun person, whose personality lends itself toward good-natured ribbing, playful interactions, and general levity, then you might know where I’m going with this. Sometimes, folks feel insecure about having fun at work because they are concerned about negative feedback, however serious. From a lack of engagement from colleagues to outright admonitions, feeling like you’re not supposed to be having fun, understandably, leads to a less fun work environment.


Misunderstandings or disconnects about what constitutes fun

Much like with the fun-on-demand pizza party idea, sometimes a lack of fun stems from a general lack of agreement over what fun actually means. Likewise, this is the reason that company-sponsored contests and competition do not automatically equate to fun for many employees.

To address this obstacle, simply ask employees what kinds of fun things they would like to do at work. Offer them some options from the list below and encourage them to submit their own ideas – and then allow people to vote within their team for the most appealing options for them.

5 ways to actually have fun at work

Ordering a team lunch and announcing it’s time to have some fun is decidedly not how to have more fun at work. Instead, try incorporating some of these ideas and, if in doubt, don’t shy away from asking employees for ideas on how to liven up the work day.


1. Celebrate the little things

Your employees’ birthdays and service anniversaries are the bare minimum. For an extra infusion of fun, consider encouraging employees to celebrate other important days with their work teams, such as their pets’ birthdays, wedding anniversary, or child’s graduation.

This doesn’t have to require a huge gesture or any additional cost. At some companies, employees simply add these special days to a team calendar and talk briefly about them during team meetings or collaboration sessions.


2. Make time for games

While some companies take a simple approach and add board games to the employee break room or lounge area, others take games more seriously. Gamification is fast becoming a common tactic in consumer marketing (think Duolingo or literally any company with a points-based reward system).

For employees, gamifying tasks by breaking large projects down into smaller pieces, each with their own deadline and reward, can help keep things interesting and engaging.


3. Embrace humor

Jokes in the workplace get a bad rap, as the wrong kinds of jokes usually end up being relayed to HR. But there is absolutely a place at work for the right kinds of humor. From friendly banter and ribbing to formal knock-knock joke contests, companies are finding ways to use humor to bring people together. This works best when leaders set the tone and break the ice.


4. Change the scenery

The human brain loves novelty, especially of the visual variety. Did you ever get to participate in a school lecture outside on a sunny day, rather than being stuck in the same old classroom? It’s the same concept. Working from different locations can help scratch that itch and it’s something the whole team can do, regardless of where they usually work.

Folks who work in the office can take their laptops outdoors, if the weather permits, or a small team could co-work in a conference room instead of at their individual desks. For remote workers, encourage them to mix it up by working in a different room in their home or at a cafe.


5. Put a record on

In shared workspaces, music can help reduce stress and give employees an outlet for self-expression. If everyone is on board, try allowing employees to take turns playing DJ by creating a playlist to broadcast in the office. Set a time limit and encourage employees to come up with a theme that represents them in some way, whether it’s a collection of their favorite songs from high school, their current playlist for deep focus, or something else that helps tell their story.

Dispersed teams can do this too, by sharing playlists on streaming services and, in some cases, even creating a listening party on your instant messaging platform.

As Confucius may have implied centuries ago, the intersection of work and fun isn’t a new debate. Yet, it remains an ongoing challenge for many organizations.

Despite the clear benefits outlined earlier, the path to fostering genuine workplace fun isn’t as straightforward as ordering a pizza party. Striking a balance between play and productivity requires a nuanced approach, acknowledging individual preferences and organizational culture.

By celebrating small victories, incorporating games, embracing humor, changing up environments, and harmonizing melodies, businesses can pave the way for a workplace where fun isn’t an afterthought but a fundamental part of the journey toward success.

 

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