All Work and No Play?

There are many opinions that exist regarding the topic of fun in the workplace.

Some have a more rigorous approach and expect that you come to work to do exactly that…work.  This approach often stems from the belief that “fun” entails people goofing off, throwing paper airplanes at each other, attempting cartwheels in cubicles, and not getting any work done. Those less rigid in thought realize that having a little fun in the workplace is fundamental to retaining a healthy, happy and more productive workforce.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking lives at our place of employment, so we certainly want an environment that is challenging, invigorating, and diverse.  We are, after all, humans and not machines. We want to express ourselves at work (within reason of course) and not hide behind a more acceptable ‘corporate facade’. Employers that exercise forethought and recognize this will explore the various ways to create a culture of genuine, focused, human engagement.  They will watch as their competitors who chose to ignore the needs of their employees suffer from attrition and declining profits, as studies show.  

Retention and engagement strategies can be implemented in a variety of “fun” ways, even without dishing out the big bucks.  Initiatives such as teambuilding events like brown bag lunches, coffee with the CEO, bring your son/daughter to work day, multicultural potlucks, or monthly lunch and learns are just a few examples. Organizations with larger budgets can implement rewards or wellness programs to recognize employees for extraordinary achievements and healthy choices.  

The above examples can be very effective, but are more surface-level strategies that follow strategic planning.  More importantly, employers should focus on creating a culture that communicates corporate strategies to employees, walks the talk, and welcomes new ideas, thereby developing trust in their organization.  In addition, as organizations implement sound HR practices they should focus things like performance management, leadership development, wellness initiatives, and the list goes on. Employees are truly engaged when they trust who they work for, find what they do meaningful, and enjoy the people they work with.

Not sure where to start?  You want to start by soliciting feedback from your employees to find out how they feel about working at your company.  This can be done through anonymous surveys or focus groups. Involving employees in decisions that affect them and implementing their ideas will facilitate trust, engagement, and ownership.  If you are using surveys, keep the questions straightforward and limited to no more than 15-20 questions.  Anything more than that becomes redundant and will deter people from participating.  You will be shocked at how honest employees will be in their feedback if they know it is anonymous.  

I have heard so many employers say “We need to create employee buy-in for this initiative.” Conversely, employees have told me that the phrase “buy-in” takes on a command and control connotation and implies to them that the organization wishes to persuade them in a certain direction, whether they like it or not.  Of course that may not be the intent, but that is how the message may be received depending on the manner in which it is delivered and executed.  What some fail to understand is that people tend to get squirmy when change is happening to them rather than through them.

What’s more critical than buy-in, and will produce far superior results, is when people take ownership in that which they are involved.  It is then that they bring passion and integrity with them to work every day. However, ownership can only happen if they feel that what they have to say and what they do matters. This change happens organically by employees actively participating, not by the change being forced on them.

I recently read a book called Stomp the Elephant in the Office by Steven W. Vanoy and Craig W. Ross. This book addresses the importance of people taking ownership (vs. buy-in) in the workplace, among other salient topics pertaining to putting an end to what they call the “toxic workplace”. According to the authors, ownership leads to long-term execution and results.  Their viewpoint is that people take ownership when organizations and their leaders spend less time trying to fix people and problems and more time honoring employees’ motivations and skills.

So, if having fun in the workplace is an element of employee engagement, and engagement leads to ownership which leads to long-term execution and results, we all should be focusing on ways to connect with our employees on a human level. According to Gallup research “…engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.” Research also revealed that when engaged, employees inspire company innovation.

How have you created a culture of fun and engagement in your workplace?

I was inspired to write about this topic by a blog I came across today posted by the founder of RedBalloon, an Australian company that values genuine happiness at work and has successfully built a more human centric workplace that employees enjoy being a part of.  

As the saying goes, “If you love what you do every day, you never have to work another day in your life.”

RedBalloon Blog


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