Work should be a happy place, right? Not necessarily a laugh-every-minute place, but one where you genuinely enjoy your coworkers, and where people are in a positive mood most of the time. Maybe even a joke now and then.
For many reasons, many organizations feel pretty grim most of the time. People have their heads down, they're stressed out, and they're just trying to keep their heads above water, much less have fun. Sounds like an inviting place to work, huh?
There are companies that have fun as part of their core values. Southwest Airlines has “Fun-LUVing Attitude” as one of their core values, which is defined as the following:
Don't take yourself too seriously
Enjoy your work
Be a passionate Team player
Zappos has “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness” as part of their core values. Workday defines “fun” in their values as, “We work hard and play hard, investing in community and company events that help our employees and their families feel a connection to Workday beyond business as usual.”
Study after study tells us that workplaces that focus on injecting some fun into the culture are more productive, are more creative, and have higher employee engagement scores. So here are five ways to bring fun into the workplace and make your organization a better place to work, even if fun isn't officially part of your values.
1. Schedule meetings and off-sites that incorporate some kind of exciting event
Maybe a scavenger hunt, trivia, bowling, or video games. Nothing gets people more amped up than a little friendly competition. Make sure and mix up work groups so that people from different departments or offices get to know each other.
2. Plan some give-back events that connect employees back to their community
If you can tie any events to the organization’s mission, even better. At my current company, we identified four areas that employees had an interest in: animal welfare, park maintenance, education, and supporting the homeless. We then work with organizations that hold events that people can choose to support if they have time on their calendar and a passion for that topic.
3. Encourage casual meet-ups
Make sure it’s seen as OK to take breaks to either Starbucks or another coffee shop of choice (my personal choice) as a team. If everyone brings lunch, suggest that you all take it outside to the closest open space or sit together in the break room.
If senior managers never participate in those activities, other employees will think it's not OK and that they need to stay glued to their computer just like the bosses do. Get the bosses to come along.
4. Celebrate birthdays and company anniversaries in a fun way
Even if it’s just donuts and a thoughtful card, present it as a group, and have a "Happy Anniversary” sing-along.
Maybe add in a special birthday crown that the lucky person gets to wear all day. Decorate their work space, but don’t go too crazy.
5. Hold a potluck or bake-off
This allows people to show off some culinary skills, and you get some pretty tasty stuff to eat. Have a chili cook-off, and award prizes to the top recipes. You could even do it as a fundraiser for a cause the company supports. In every place I've worked, I found that there are people that like to cook and bake, and people that like to eat!
Here are some don'ts around bringing fun into the workplace:
1. Don’t force it
Scheduling a happy hour every week and making it mandataroy will not end up being fun, no matter what the intent. Especially if the fun time bleeds into personal time too often. Scheduling ahead is fine; just don’t force people to have fun.
2. Be authentic, and make sure it's as true to your corporate culture as possible
What might work at a start-up video game company probably will not work at a Big 5 accounting firm. Find out the things your employees are passionate about, and center activities that match up. For example, if everyone loves softball, then that might be a great activity to plan.
3. Don’t go too far
Inappropriate pranks or very physical activities might not be up every employee’s alley. So be sensitive about the type of activities you schedule.
Fun is just one element that makes an organizational culture an engaging one, but sometimes a little laughter is just what’s needed to relieve stress and recharge people. And I can guarantee you that employees will remember that epic scavenger hunt from the last corporate meeting way longer that the topics covered at the meeting.