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Having Fun at Work? Really.

by Derek Irvine

Foosball TableRecognize This! – Companies that encourage fun at work, as well as in work, are well positioned to succeed.

Outside of our working lives, we are faced with balancing our chores and our hobbies: the routine things that need to get done, and the exciting things we look forward to and that help us grow or build skills. Gary Hamel, a speaker at this year’s WorkHuman, phrased it much better than I in a recent interview with Globoforce:

“After all, as human beings we wash the dishes, do the laundry, and take out the garbage—pretty mundane stuff. But we also climb mountains to watch the sun rise, cross oceans to explore different cultures, and take up new hobbies to stretch our minds. Our organizations need to be similarly versatile.”

As Gary argues, work needs to be approached with the same lens through which we approach our lives outside of work. Some responsibilities of a job may end up being tedious yet necessary, but there is a human need for aspects that are more interesting and meaningful. Providing that balance is critical in making work a more human experience. In short, work needs to be “fun.”

Thinking in terms of these examples, it is a little surprising that some people still have some apprehension around using the words “fun” and “work” in the same sentence (especially those in the “work should be work” camp). But research by the Great Place to Work Institute reveals that workplace fun is one of the strongest correlates of the overall measure of having a best-in-class workplace.

So what does it really mean to have fun?

I think a crucial distinction to be made is between fun for its own sake and experiencing fun through work. Think less swing sets and pool tables, and more projects that are capable of engaging the whole person’s interests, curiosity, and sense of achievement.

Ultimately, fun is a subjective experience that some may experience when they are confronted with a challenging problem to solve, tasked with developing a new process, or contribute meaningfully to their colleagues. There are some people for whom certain things will never be fun, and some projects that won’t be fun for anyone, but to the extent possible, organizations can structure work in a way to maximize the potential that employees can bring to bear when they perceive something as being “fun.”

It is also important not to discredit the benefits of swing sets and pool tables within the greater scope of work and relationships between people. As a complement, opportunities for fun, or play as Brigid Schulte (another WorkHuman speaker!) might say, allow people to be more creative, develop new relationships, and come at a problem with a new perspective. Fun spaces and also events like this may also increase the probability of cross-functional collaboration, ultimately benefiting the organization.

More and more studies are beginning to support the importance of fun in the workplace, detailed out in a recent piece in Entrepreneur, as well as through classic academic studies around the positive outcomes of broadening and building. Increasingly less of a nice-to-have, organizations that enable their employees to have fun at work are increasingly positioned to be successful.

What does your organization do to help drive fun at work?

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