Fast Company

Ten Ways to Inject Fun Into the Workplace

MY WORK-LIFE BALANCE SHEET


When I first heard that there was a book called "Work Like Your Dog," I had some unsavory visions of excusing myself from an important meeting to drink out of the toilet bowl, taking a moment out of a client lunch to rub against their leg, or simply getting caught cleaning myself when my assistant walked in. It turns out, Matt Weinstein and Luke Barber had something completely different in mind, and it concerns the notion that dogs are actually really energetic and good at play. My ongoing vision for my radio show "Opportunity Knocks" has been to combine business with a sense of humor, two things that are often mutually exclusive in our society.

According to a William M. Mercer survey, only 29 percent of employers nationwide encourage humor as part of their company culture, and only eight percent have a policy of using fun to reduce employee stress. Yet, research at California State University Long Beach showed that people who have fun at work are more creative, more productive, work better with others and call in sick less often. Indeed, we were privileged to have as our guest on the show recently Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko's, who encouraged a whole lot of wild stuff in the workplace to make his staff happier. Check out his book, "Copy This!" for the juicy details.

So what's everybody waiting for? Those who are ready to shake things up can take advantage of the Tom Stern, work-life balance, ten-point plan for making the job you go to every day a zanier, more exciting place to be.

  1. Casual Friday has been done to death. Start instituting casual dress on any day of the week you like, but only from either nine to noon or one to five. Having people change into or out of a set of clothes in the middle of the day will be stimulating, and the sense of anticipation about what "casual dress" means to some of the bozos you work with will keep everyone on their toes.
  2. Select an area of the office in front of which will be placed a piece of gymnastic equipment. In order to get to, say, Human Resources, you have to vault over a horse. Keeps everyone in shape, and if you set up a video camera, your office could amass quite a "blooper reel."
  3. Bring a karaoke machine to the office and stage "American Idol" contests at lunch break. NOTE: For maximum fantasy element (not to mention the chance to vent), make the bosses the contestants and the employees the judges.
  4. As an incentive to timeliness, whoever gets to work before upper management gets to park in their reserved space.
  5. Inter-office e-mails will all now feature the subject heading "FEEL FREE TO IGNORE THIS USELESS DRIVEL."
  6. Make a point to be more specific when exchanging pleasantries with your co-workers. For example, skip the overused "how was your weekend?" and replace it with "did you gamble away your first born again?" or "say, did your boyfriend ever find out what you did?"
  7. In a variation of a college drinking game, every time anyone calls Wednesday "hump day" they get pummeled with the candy from the jar on the receptionist's desk.
  8. Once a month, the entire office takes a long lunch and goes out to a movie matinee. (This suggestion on hold until Hollywood actually makes some good movies again.)
  9. Everyone swears off coffee for one day. (NOTE: only use this idea if things are getting so bad at your workplace that they can only be remedied with a sudden outbreak of irrational violence.)
  10. One time every day, whoever answers the phone gets to do so by going "thank you for calling Bunch of Dysfunctional Losers, how may I direct your call?"

My hope is that this list of fun-inducers will get your mind going, too. Let's hope that the next time the William A. Mercer company surveys us, we'll jack up that percentage of humor in the workplace to well over half this dang country. We can dream, can't we?

TOP THREE TAKEAWAYS

  1. There is no limit to the ways in which you can inject some fun into the workplace. However, please note that nobody wants or needs to see you in a thong ever again.
  2. Think twice the next time you use the phrase "work like a dog." Use "work like an ox" instead...now there's a creature that’s about as much fun as a rubber crutch.
  3. You’ve just gone through my ten-point plan, and still you wanted Top Three Takeaways. Clearly, you appetite for lists is insatiable.


Tom Stern is the founder of Stern Executive Search and the creator of CEO Dad, the syndicated comic strip about executive dysfuntion.

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16 Comments

  • Jody Urquhart

    How is a lack of caffeine funny! Ha Ha ok it could be, but i rely on it to survive ( I have a one year old)
    I find people always want "techniques"for having more fun at work. Yet it is more important for organizations to embody fun at work. To be compelled to enjoy work and have fun while doing ( no need for silly putty and karaoke machines) it. This rubs off on customers, other employees, the community. Hire fun people, appreciate the spontaneous humor that abrupts, celebrate organic absurdity in your environment.
    The humor is already their - just revel in it

  • Richart Ruddie

    Injecting fun and excitement into the work place really is an innovative way to break through the 4th wall that many companies get stuck behind. I like the karaoke machine idea but can imagine productivity would be lost. Also the rule of 150 as mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point mentions companies like Gore-Tex and their success because they went away from the traditional office center and today we have companies like GooGle who do the same.

    Rich,
    garage sales tracker

  • Raffet

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  • Jeff N

    There's some good stuff here and while some of it might not be for every company I'm glad to see this topic addressed. To the folks who think that humor of work inevitably becomes destructive... get a sense of humor.

    Everyplace that I've worked humor has been an important part of keeping productive and only twice it was something slightly off kilter (once the boss just had a slightly different sense of humor... which made for some interesting and fun times... and another instance where management-sponsored humor was appreciated.. weird stuff)

    Cheers,
    Jeff N
    jeffn@startupattitude.com
    http://www.startupattitude.com

  • Rhino

    Pretty clear that Tom's never really worked in an office, huh... Having fun in any setting, especially work, is about comfort with and trust in, those around you. We've all been part of an incredibly demanding, challenging project working outrageous hours against impossible deadlines. Under those circumstances humor is bound to break out. Everyone relies on each other and knows what we had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and that midnight snack. Mandatory fun is no fun at all. Spontaneous enjoyment of each other and the challenge at hand is what makes coming to work worth it. Scap the plants with names and try asking the person's name in the cube down the hall you've never met. It might be Violet.

  • Simon

    Rubber band wars, spiders on sticks, funny notes left randomly around the place, get an office dog, Remove the wheels from a co-workers chair, send ridiculous emails with links to inappropriate youtube content, listen to podcasts, roll your mouse occasionally due to working too hard, spy on your neighbours and give them rude nicknames, put up personal charactictures in the office (simpson or southpark charactor websites are fun.) sticky tape your bosses telephone handle to the cradle, make little cutouts and stick them around your desk (i have a pole dancer and crazy arab camel jockey attached to my pet metal elephant) bring in a tree branch from outside (you will get more spiders to put on sticks this way, they are great for scaring secretaries)leave the doors open and let birds fly in, watch for missiles though. waste bandwidth searching for funny things to do, collect old cds and make wall patterns, complain about low pay, hard work and how the cleaners never do thier job, go to the pub one day after work, we also have a dartboard and a mini basketball ring, every few hours do a backwards lap around the room on your chair, we are getting weights soon too. turn your imac into an ipod and use it only for playing elvis, bob matrley and jazz, expensive mp3 player that one.... draw picture of clubs on the tissuebox that has an image of a baby seal on it, unplug your co-workers mouse or monitor before they arrive, stick a post-it not under their mouse so the laser doesnt work. Take a screen shot of a co-workers desktop and make it the wallpaper image, then drag all icons off the screen, Oh i almost forgot, scare the work experience kid, scare him good.

  • Jeff

    One of my biggest corporate pet peeves is job descriptions that, in describing the hiring company, say: "We work hard, but we play hard!"

    That's supposed to make me think it's a fun-loving atmosphere? I'd expect sophomoric attempts at office silliness and a propensity towards overworking the staff.

    Instead of appealing, the phrase indicates to me a probable lack of respect for employees in addition to a creative failure in copy editing.

  • lvb

    Jim, thanks for the more realistic and still humor-originating standpoint. You should have written the original post. Despite some practices may facilitate a more relaxed and fun working environment, it's important to keep in mind that people's own charater and personal circumnstances are more influential factors.

  • jim

    This is the one of the most pathetic and bland ways to induce fun and creativity into a business that I've ever seen in print. It's simply corny. Some rebuttals, point by point:

    1: Waste of clothes, washing, time and not stimulating in the least. Just like casual days arose from realizing that suits do not mean smarts, one should change clothes for a purpose. Have people pick a fabric, a color, or a favorite animal for a single day's outfit - simply get them expressing themselves in creative ways, not juggling outfits.

    2: Ug. Two words: "lawsuit day" - complete with video evidence. wtf!

    3: hint: Karaoke has been done more to death than casual day. Save the bad singing for nights on the town or dinner parties. Why not incorporate a deck of trivia cards and let everyone quiz folks in each meeting? You'd be amazed how fast people learn quirky facts and "break the ice" a bit nicer than 3 minutes of a boss barking their high school dance anthem.

    4: Reserved spaces are a big sign a company is way too hierarchical - kill that quickly and keep the leveling strictly in responsibility, not fiefdom-building perks. How about an employee-based anonymous vote for the "comfy chair award" where someone gets a deluxe massage/heated chair until the next monthly drawing?

    5: I hate to break it to everyone, but email already flies around with cheeky remarks. It's probably on cellphone text msgs or web-based mail if it's juicy. Lighthearted is fun good, but inflection is difficult to discern from printed text. Also, email can be read in in much different contexts later - adhere to the letter of the law for corporate content that lives forever on backup servers. Google mail allows folks "out of channel" posts, and IM or cell texting is much faster.

    6: Not bad, but I'm more fond of a catchphrase of the week. Currently, ours is "Thats outta pocket!" (a misquote of "that outta hand!" from one of our employee's gradeschool students).

    7: Again not bad, but our nerf guns take care of the safe throwing objects. Candy is indeed dangerous when thrown.

    8: Skip the movie, where your employee sit and do not interact. Instead, go see some improv comedy - they keep it clean, ask people to participate, and get folks laughing.

    9: We would never do this, but we do sample different beans, roasts, and coffee shops in the area.

    10: Avoid. I would rather see folks get a pile of old magazines and cut out figures to hang on each other's office doors or cubie areas. It's creative, a way to express one's feelings somewhat, and involves cooperation.

    SOME OF OURS FROM THE HOME OFFICE:
    - Howabout changing one's instant messaging handle to something creative each day, like one's mood? You do use instant messaging to facilitate more informal Q&A than email, right?

    - Ask everyone to bring in a plant and name it. Give them personalities and care for them when someone's out of the office. Foreshadowing my luck with plants, mine is named Chuck.

    - After 5PM, it's shoes-optional. Removing one's shoes is one of the relaxing and yet stimulating ways to induce a change of perspective.

    - Overhead fluorescents are out. Desk lamps, gathered from garage sales (and checked for fire-hazard) are in. Tiffany lamps, lava lamps, and stylish execudesk-style lamps abound and add more interesting, welcoming creativity.

    - Here in the Northwest, we have a bucket of umbrellas to share on walks to the shops at lunch. Sharing an umbrella is not unheard of.

    Overall, I guess your original article is well-intentioned, but seems hollow. If someone is playful in life, they will be in work - in similar ways. Imagine yourself doing your suggestions at home and then think if they are indeed silly, or just a corporate environment trying to mask drudgery with made-up games nobody enjoys at home or at work.

  • Chris

    I think what Sajiv and Phil point to is a common fear that once humor is integrated into an organizational culture, it will eventually lead to negative results. That someone will take it too far. We're still hung up on the old concept that professionalism = seriousness. But consider instead the notion of "serious play" where you still take your work seriously but yourself a little more lightly. So many of the problems we face in our worklife - and the stress they produce - stem from the very notion that challenges must be faced with absolute seriousness. Next time, you have to deal with a major customer complaint, work your butt off, but don't be afraid to be a joker while you do it. You won't be any less committed to solving the problem.

  • Phil

    I think Sajiv's point about humor/fun getting out of hand is well taken, and this can happen in any life context, with unfortunate results. Like anything else in life and work, though, its all about balance and the managers need to lead in this area to make sure the fun is balanced and is actually producing the desired result, ie enhanced productivity, creativity, etc... If not, something's out of whack. The group I work in has a lot of fun, but we know how much is too much and what's appropriate. We are incredibly productive, but have a great time and we are maintaining our sanity!

  • Sajiv

    The problem with having a fun culture in the workplace is that eventually everybody stops taking their jobs seriously especially if your organization is growing. The new guys who come in see a whole lot of activities and loose focus . The fun element which was introduced becomes a mandatory affair which is bad especially when your company is going thru a bad phase and still people want to have fun rather than slogging it out