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SURPRISING CONNECTION #5: Fun and Work — 2 Words Not Commonly Linked

The New Year is a time to set goals. Serious goals. The kind of goals with results you can track on spreadsheets, pie charts, and graphs. I said, serious goals. Like sales goals, customer satisfaction metrics, financial targets to meet in the coming year. Performance goals. Budgets. Weight loss goals. Exercise plans. The kinds of goals we can measure and proclaim success by. But, when did goals get so serious? Did you notice your brow furrowing at reading that list?

Have you ever considered setting a goal for bringing more fun to work in the upcoming year? I’m not talking about humor as that feared Pandora’s Box unleashes fun at the expense of others. I’m talking about creating a culture that balance seriousness with levity, and exertion with recovery time. After all, millennial job seekers just wanna have fun. Just last week my son was comparing and contrasting his internship employer and current employer on that very scale—observing that a culture which encourages collegiality, levity and humor also leads to trust, productivity, and a wantingness to stay there. Talent simply won’t stick around in a sterile, mechanical, repressive culture. But don’t take his word for it. The Great Place to Work Institute’s 1-million person research study found that every year Fortune’s Top 100 organizations have more than 80% of their employees say they have fun at work.

What would a survey of your team say? For kicks, I surveyed my own memory bank for “fun” times I could recall from my life as an employee or consultant. I once worked for a department that never had fun and they knew it…so they mandated it. Yep, it became an objective on the department’s strategy plan. And while that seemed a bit contradictory, it produced lunchtime knitting groups, excursions to ice creameries in the summer, and time for us to come out from our siloes. In other experiences, I remember squirt guns used to manage meeting participation in a light-hearted way so that everyone’s voice got heard, and a school district superintendent donning a crazy wig and addressing his team during an offsite meeting—and getting more respect at being a good sport than his otherwise 6’ 4” stature commanded daily. I can recall balloons being bounced through an auditorium full of nervous new hires during their long 3-day orientation to keep energy up. A workforce of existing staff lining the hallways to welcome their new hires with high-fives, clapping and smiles, creating a memory so meaningful that the ritual was repeated for their CEO when he retired. I could go on, but if you’re reading any of these and were a participant, chances are you’ve just smiled and felt momentarily lifted out of whatever reality you’re facing today.

But “why bother?” you ask, as your brow furrows again. To name just a few serious reasons:

  • The Harvard Business Review found that executives with a sense of humor climb the corporate ladder faster and make more money in their careers.

  • An industry-wide study of over 2,500 people found that 55% of workers would take less pay to have more fun at work. This means a majority of people would literally take a pay cut for a more light-hearted work environment.

  • Leaders who use humor are perceived as better leaders. Subordinates also report experiencing greater work satisfaction when working with managers who integrate humor in their interactions.

Now, you already know many of the other reasons—a lighter environment reduces burnout and turnover. It also fosters better work performance and boosts creative thinking. I won’t bore you with more statistics (that’s what Google is for). Instead, I’ll challenge you to do your own data collection with your staff. Are they having enough fun? Are you? How would your culture define fun?

What are three fun memories you’ve had from the workplace? I dare you to share them. And if you can’t think of a one, you may need to call my friends at the Fun Dept. ( They think stirring up fun is some serious business—in fact, it IS their business. Ask them about the Tom Jones gig they did for one of my meetings, their famous ice-cream-making team events, or their new book: Playing It Forward.

Cutbacks, change efforts, budgets, year-end performance reviews, annual mandatory training, benefits open enrollment, strategy plans, leadership transitions, delivering difficult feedback. C’mon, you deserve and even NEED a little fun to carry you along in the New Year. After all, much of our work benefits from utilizing both our left brains AND our right brains. Those creative right brains can be a threshold to more expansive thinking, can unleash energy to bring to our serious work, and can feel like the exhale following a very big inhale that you’ve been holding too long. So, promote some fun at work this year to help meet those serious goals. I double-dog dare ya!

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