The Value of Having Fun at Work

Do your employees come to work just to collect paychecks? Want them to become brand evangelists? Then, place “fun” on the top of your HR strategy. Seriously.

The competitive marketplace for top talent is ruthless. Being a bland, vanilla, or, worst of all, insensitive place to work is bad for your brand. According to the Harvard Business Review and the Energy Project, empowering employees to have fun makes them feel healthier and happier. Why not create a program that encourages meaningful, fun breaks throughout the day, week, month, and year?

Consider LinkedIn and how it offers monthly events called “InDays.” Each InDay, LinkedIn encourages its employees to innovate, think creatively, or work on inspirational projects.

Does this lead to success? LinkedIn boasts a top-10 ranking on Glassdoor as one of the best “large” places to work, and CEO Jeff Weiner holds a top-5 CEO ranking.

The following excerpt from my new book The Power of Having Fun details how employees have lost their way. It dives into the research that shows how taking unstructured breaks throughout the day helps us refocus and be more productive. We live in a world where non-stop work and no-play are the standard. It’s time to take control of our own destiny… and productivity!

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Are you unhappy with your job? Do you feel like your manager doesn’t respect you? Do you feel like the CEO has no clue about what’s going on at your level in the company? If so, you’re not alone.

So many workers imagine the “perfect” work environment and strictly affix their notion of happiness to that ideal. They make the pinnacle of happiness and well-being contingent upon how well their current job lines up with the model that they’ve created in their mind.

A recent Gallup survey found that only about one-third of US employees consider themselves engaged at work. This means that about two-thirds could care less — or are even hostile — about the work they’re doing and the company they’re working for. It’s even worse outside the United States, with over 80% of employees in the disengaged category.

Yet companies with highly engaged workforces outperform competitors by 147%. Each year, Fortune magazine enlists the aid of the Great Place to Work Institute to compile The Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list. Companies covet and seek membership to this rare group. Talk about a recruiting boost!

For all employees who work for the companies on the list, the phrase “this is a fun place to work” most highly correlated among all survey statements with this phrase: “Taking everything into account, I consider this a great place to work.” Translation: If you want a workplace that attracts and retains top talent, make it a fun place to work.

And if you want to love your work, find a way to infuse moments of fun into your day.

It’s not about satisfaction

In a long list of the wonderful aspects of your job, odds are there’s at least one annoying sliver in your pinkie finger that’s making you rethink your career choices. As an employee, you ride a roller coaster of emotions fueled by the Culture of WISH (Worth It Someday Hopefully).

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It says, “Someday, hopefully, the perfect workday will land on your lap and nuzzle you like a kitten. In the meantime, buck up! Just put your head down and plow ahead. That’s how your forefathers’ forefathers built this land, after all.”

By sacrificing immediate fun in the hopes of getting some joy down the line, you’re falling victim to fallacy. Here’s a little secret that you may not be aware of: everybody does stuff that they don’t want to do at work.

I’m sure there are plenty of readers of this book who would say they love their job but can find something about it they despise. My nemesis? Editing. Yuck. While we can occasionally delegate portions of job ugliness, for neither you nor me is there such a thing as the 100 percent perfect job. If we sit around waiting for the perfect job to throw us the keys and “have a good time,” we’re always going to feel as if we’re being cheated.

Culture of WIN

However, the Culture of WIN (Worth It Now) creates a different reality. It gives us the right to predetermined breaks that we can use to step away regardless of the experiences that we may be having at the moment. Whether we’re happy or unhappy with our job is irrelevant. The point is that we can take these breaks to make sure that it is always worth it now.

That it will be worth it each day, week, month, and year. In this way, we can be happy at work regardless of externalities. As the Dalai Lama once said: “If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”

Translation: You can do something about your happiness at work, so there is no need to worry. Who bears responsibility for making these changes? In my experience, and with a non-scientific estimate, here is how I see the “fun responsibility” divvied up in the workplace.

Enjoy this tasty pie chart: That big fat slice says that you are mostly in control of your workplace happiness. No need to sit around waiting for someone to swoop down from the heavens and save the day.

Dave Crenshaw is the master of building productive leaders and has transformed hundreds of thousands of business leaders worldwide. He has appeared in TIME magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. He has written three books and counting, including The Myth of Multitasking which was published in six languages and is a time-management bestseller. His fourth book, The Power of Having Fun, releases September 19th. Learn more about Dave at DaveCrenshaw.com.

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4 Comments on “The Value of Having Fun at Work

  1. Thanks, Dave. How about a culture that says:
    “We value your time, and want you to be productive. We’ll give you 8 hours of work to do, and we expect you to do it in 8 hours and not put in extra time. In fact, we try to hire people who can do 8 hours of work in 6 hours and then get out of here and go on with the rest of their lives.”?

    1. It’s a great point, Keith. There are a growing number of companies that have this philosophy. It’s respectful, if not a touch utilitarian.

      Even in such an environment, it’s still wise to encourage regular, strategic, fun breaks throughout the day. I didn’t have room to cover it all in this article (which is why I wrote a book!), so you may want to look up Nathaniel Kleitman and the “ultradian rhythm.” Each person has a hardwired need for a relaxing break around every 90 to 120 minutes. If an employee has an ultradian rhythm of 90 minutes, and they push past it and work to the 91 minute mark and fail to take a needed break, every minute thereafter gives a diminishing return. However, by taking a quick fun break, you give your body room to reset your clock, recharge your internal battery, and return to optimal levels of performance.

      Having fun plays a vital role within the work day, not just the hours outside of it.

      1. Thanks, Dave. I agree- breaks are vital. I also think fun is good, however- at work: organized fun tends to become “mandatory fun”…. I liked how (many years ago) Tandem Computers had a Friday PM “beer bash” it was fun, and didn’t take away from getting things done….At the other extreme, I had an HR head who had the recruiting team spend several hours planning and working on a dance number for an HR function: that REALLY took away from recruiting time.

        I think companies should have the flexibility to have all types of personalities working effectively: If someone wants to work onsite in a loud open- plan office and spend 80 hours/week working and doing fun things with their co-workers, that’s OK. There should also be equal provision for folks who do best when left largely alone to get their work done, either (if necessary) onsite with privacy or remotely. I’m one of the latter types:
        I enjoy being around people, but where/how/when/how long I want to.

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