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Why Fun Matters at Work!

Is your employer a big proponent of work/life balance? If they’re serious about it, you only spend half of your waking hours on the job. Half! 50%! A lot of time! My friend, Rich Sheridan, gets it. He wrote a book called Joy Inc. Thanks to Rich; some companies are starting to recognize the value of fun at work.

I once stopped by Menlo Innovations, Rich’s company, to hang a volunteer poster for a community service non-profit I work with. When I walked through the door, Rich jumped up and gave me a friendly greeting. As we walked towards the lunchroom, where we would hang the poster, Rich stopped and called a company meeting.

You should know that Menlo is deeply committed to collaboration, so much so that they don’t have offices. Obviously, Rich sits by the front door. Everyone else sits in the same giant room with him. Thus, when Rich called the meeting, he stopped and called out, “Hey, Menlo!” And everyone stopped what they were doing to listen. He invited me to explain my request, which took less than two minutes. The meeting was over.

Interruptions like that might be mistaken for inefficiency and distraction. On the contrary, they are fun! I am a bit of a joker myself. I look for opportunities to inject humor into the conversation. Not everyone likes it, but without jocularity, people forget to take a breath and enjoy the day.

Modern neuroscience has finally caught up to something we all know. This scientific study concludes that “ laughter may be an important neurochemical pathway that supports the formation, reinforcement, and maintenance of human social bonds.” Another name for “human social bonds” is trust. I have written about the importance of trust before.

Having fun at work is also personal. It reduces stress and leaves you more energy at the end of the workday. Studies show you are less likely to leave your employer if you have fun at work.

Piling On

You may be the stern type. That doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy a little fun mixed in with your work. You are unlikely to be the one to initiate humor, but you can contribute. For example, I once had an employee who loved playing a word game with me. We could go on for hours. He might start by saying, "I don’t care at (carrot) all for that idea.” I would respond by saying, “You better do it, or I’ll be forced to cut your celery.” He would respond by saying, “Lettuce be reasonable!”

Sometimes, others would join the fun. Even if they didn’t, they enjoyed groaning at our bad puns. I call this piling on. Reacting to others having fun involves you in the activity and signals that it’s okay. Some of us get stigmatized for having too much fun on the job. We need signals that permit us to enjoy ourselves beyond our passion for the work.

When I observe someone on the team becoming annoyed whenever we have fun, I seize that as an opportunity for some coaching. I want to understand why the teammate isn’t having fun. Most often, there are personal reasons. As a coach, it is my responsibility to help people with emotional issues that impact the team. Not having fun has negative consequences for the team and is worthy of remediation.

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