Lighten Up! Having Fun at Work

Underneath the picture of Bozoma Saint John, the 39-year-old head of global marketing for Apple Music and iTunes, was an intriguing headline. It read, “How to Find Joy at Work.”

The article was just a page in the October issue of In Style magazine. Not exactly a hard-hitting business journal. With a derisive snort, I thought,  “So, someone who probably has one of the most dynamic and rewarding jobs in the world is going to tell me about how tough it is to find joy at the office?” But I found myself nodding along when I got to the second item in the list: “Balance the heavy with the hilarious.”

Saint John had this to say to the magazine:

“At the end of every team meeting, I leave five minutes to celebrate each other. Work meetings can feel heavy — they are filled with tasks that need to be accomplished and challenges that need to be faced, so complimenting your colleagues on something they’ve worked on or produced is a way of injecting some happiness into an otherwise routine gathering.”

Like Saint John, I believe that fun and humor are essential to business. The stakes are high, competition is fierce and the pressure for growth is infinite. If we don’t have a little fun in the process, we’re on a fast-track to frustration and burnout. An office without humor is like a room without a window — there’s no escape, no visual stimulation, no sunshine, no fresh air, no fresh input or ideas. In short, there’s no innovation.

Most of us can agree that blowing off steam in a productive way (no yelling or throwing things, please!) is part of that whole work-life balance we’re trying so hard to achieve. But how do you incorporate a sense of fun that feels organic and sincere? I’m not talking candy walls, forced fungineers and belly laughs. People want something genuine.

The answer is different for each workplace. In the book The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up, the authors use a real example of a factory in Utah where an employee broached his manager with a proposition. If the team made their quota two hours early, they could go outside and fly paper airplanes. The reluctant manager gave in, the team exceeded their quota by 110 percent, and frivolity was had by all.

Perhaps paper airplanes aren’t your thing. I’ll bet there’s something out there that is. Maybe it’s a monthly catered lunch that doesn’t involve a concurrent meeting. Maybe it’s bowling teams that compete against each other every other Tuesday night. Maybe it’s playing music in the office. Maybe it’s baked into your corporate policy, like a day off each quarter for employees who work together on a community service project.

Keep in mind that fun isn’t just about activities. Free bagels on Friday aren’t going to magically erase 40 or 50 hours of ill feelings. Engaging your employees means creating an environment they want to be part of. It needs to be rewarding, it needs to be a place where they feel valued, respected and trusted.

And it starts with you, the manager.

“An increasing body of research demonstrates that when leaders lighten up and create a fun workplace, there is a significant increase in the level of employee trust, creativity and communication — leading to lower turnover, higher morale and a stronger bottom line,” according to The Levity Effect. “The research also shows that managers who have taught themselves to be funnier are more effective communicators and better salespeople, have more engaged employees, earn a lot more than their peers and are much thinner. OK, maybe not the last one.”

Hey, if the authors can crack a joke, so can you! Now I know life isn’t a yuck-fest. Work can be a hard, ugly, difficult thing. But I believe that we each have the ability to make it a little less so. It may take some trial and error to find what will lighten up your workplace, but it’s worth the investment.

If you still aren’t convinced about the importance of fun, ponder this great quote from Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. He said, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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