By Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory
While I realize I am in danger of revealing my age with the Cyndi Lauper reference, it is for good reason. You see, fun has gotten a terrible rap when it comes to business. Somehow, we have all decided that work is serious stuff and that fun, laughter, and dare I say it, enjoyment has no place in the workplace.
Yet our workplaces are not working all that well. According to Gallup’s global study of workplace engagement; 20 percent of staff are actively disengaged in their work, in other words they really hate their jobs, while 50 percent are not engaged at all, so they don’t particularly care one way or the other. This is a huge problem, for both employers and employees. It points to the fact that most of us think our workplaces well, to put it less than politely, suck!
This is partly due to the fact our workplaces and work practices have been built on a discipline model. A model that made some sense in the industrialized world. As we needed compliant armies of people to run production lines and get things made, while dominating bosses loomed over us in case things did not happen as efficiently as they should.
But work is changing (thank goodness!). Today we have machines for much of those industrialized tasks, which means work requires less repetition but rather more thought and origination. We also do not require that strict hierarchical industrial revolution structure anymore; instead we require a flatter, more collaborative one as our work becomes more complex and interdependent.
It stands to reason if we now require more thinking, creativity and collaboration the acceptance of fun in business is even more crucial as all of these do better in more enjoyable environments.
Fun is also good for business in other ways. People who love or at least like their workplaces perform better. They are more engaged, more willing to work and more satisfied. They tend to stay in their jobs longer, which means they become more skilled at them. This means we recruit less often and save money and time recruiting and re-training. Furthermore our people’s moods are contagious so if they are happier, co-workers and customers will reap the benefits.
So girls here are some tips to help make your workplace more fun (you know you wanna):
Make it a game
Turning tasks into games can make them things people want to do. Back in my advertising days when the team had deadlines looming and extremely difficult (and not fun) briefs on hand, we would take the game Scattegories and re-purpose it. The game has a dice that is a twenty-sided icosahedron with a letter on each side and a timer. We would roll the dice and whichever letter came up, we’d come up with as many ideas starting with that letter within the allocated time. In that moment, we were not feeling the pressure of a hard brief; we were having fun trying to come up with an idea that started with “P” or “B” or “D.” We were gamifying a task and turning pressure into laughter, (but back then there wasn’t a sexy name for what we were doing).
“I work in a warehouse, and a bunch of us sing and dance to keep us occupied.” Nicole, 25
Focus on the boring bits
The boring bits in our businesses are often the break points. They are often the points that send our customers and staff running, yet we tend to say “oh well, that’s just part of the job” and make no effort to improve them. This is a mistake. Put energy into making the least fun tasks more fun. Even those poor souls who were forced to break rocks in chain gangs realized that singing and creating a beat made that task more bearable so somehow they could get through. I am also certain if someone found a way to make time sheets more fun that an entire part of the business world would build statues in their honor.
Show us the love
All business is the business of human relationships and if we want to make that dynamic more fun, it would serve us to remember that. Many of the ‘rules’ that apply to personal relationships also apply in business as well. Just as in personal relationships our staff, co-workers and customers want to feel important, connected and listened to. In short, they want to feel special. Think of ways to show your appreciation, small gestures will do. And just as in any relationship make sure you remember to not simply talk about yourself the entire time, stop and listen to what your staff and customers want. Show you care and they will care and that is much more fun than working with people who could not care less.
“Working in a grocery store stocking produce, for fun on our down time, I like having conversations with my co-workers and seeing who they really are without the uniform and name tag.” Eva, 21
Remember design beats discipline
If we wish to have more fun at work (and we should) we need to look to design rather than discipline. Discipline relies on ourselves or someone else cajoling and berating us into action, which quickly removes any fun from it. Instead, we should look to design to build better systems that make the tasks we need to do more intuitive. Doctors in one particular hospital (we will not name it for privacy reasons) found that their staff was not washing their hands correctly. Instead of the usual lectures, threats and constant nagging (not fun) they simply put the disinfectant hand soap dispensers onto the restroom door so they had to press it to exit. Problem solved in a much less painful way.
Value fun as much as seriousness
Seriousness has no less value than fun. In fact fun is one of the most powerful engagement tools we have. Humor also has powers sensible does not. Humor is an anesthetic that allows often-uncomfortable truths to be spoken, just ask any comedian. Humor at work goes a long way towards building teams and tolerance, so encourage people to laugh as often as you can.
The truth is our work lives and home lives are blending. Technology has meant it is hard to turn work off and we all know you can’t turn life off. So we need a better approach if work is to come home with us. I would like to suggest we work with human nature and design work and tasks to be as interesting, engaging and as fun as we can. We should not just want to have fun at work but rather we need to!
Image Credit: PhotoStock/freedigitalimage.net
Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems–what drives, motivates and influences us. They have won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Kieran and Dan’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.