TenWays of Making Work Fun
1) Hire competent employees who already value fun and have a sense of humor.
If you begin with employees who already have humor and fun as part of their personality and style, they will automatically bring these qualities to their job. They will already have the skills you want to nurture throughout the organization. A core of people with strong humor skills is one of the most important keys to helping other employees build up these skills.
2) Be sure humor and fun are modeled by top management.
No plan to change the corporate culture can work unless it is supported and modeled by top levels of management. Most employees assume that humor and fun on the job will be viewed negatively; so they need clear evidence that this is not the case. If they fail to see evidence of a lighter attitude in top management, they will be very cautious about using their sense of humor on the job--no matter how many fun activities are set up by the company. They will assume that their chances of getting ahead are better if they’re always serious. Sean Greenwood, a full-time humor coordinator for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in the mid-1990s, noted that "If your management doesn’t support it, it’s tough to go out and have fun at work."
A special meeting designed to emphasize this new organizational value generally handles any doubts employees have. This meeting should also offer guidelines for the limits of humor and fun; i.e., when and how much humor or fun is and is not appropriate. It may even be built into your company’s philosophy or value statement.
3) Establish a Fun Committee.
Every company has its own unique culture, and fun activities that work in one setting might not work in another. Establishing a fun committee not only helps assure that fun activities and events will actually be created; it assures that they will be appropriate for your company. This committee should rotate to keep ideas fresh and sustain ongoing commitment to fun on the job.
4) Provide challenging work.
Fun on the job does not have to take the form of humor or silliness. Simply having challenging work is an important source of fun for many employees. While people often feel too overwhelmed by their workload to experience this form of fun, the drive for mastery of a challenging task remains a powerful source of fun for managers to tap into.
5) Encourage spontaneity on the job.
Spontaneity is central to play and fun. While a judgment must always be made about when any form of fun or humor is and is not appropriate, don’t let this restraint kill your capacity for spontaneity. An employee once told me that he was traveling with his boss by car to another city for a meeting. They stopped mid-morning at a rest stop near a beautiful lake and pine trees and walked about and had a Coke from a machine. As they got back into the car, he noticed a day-planner opened up to that day. At 10 a.m., he saw "Stop and relax for 15 minutes."
Chances are that this man’s boss had not internalized the notion of fun and enjoyment of his work. Fun and relaxation are simply one more item on a busy schedule. A similar approach is evident in the director of a large department of a company who actually stated in a meeting, "If you have anything funny to contribute, please save it until the end of the meeting." It wasn‘t that she thought it was inappropriate or disruptive; she just did everything by the book, and liked to keep to a tight schedule. If you want to improve your sense of humor, and get humor working for you on the job, you can’t use a schedule for adopting a playful attitude. You need to be open to the spontaneity of the moment--even though you may not be able to act on your playful mood, because it is inappropriate at the moment.
6) Create a humor bulletin board.
Encourage employees to contribute. Assign someone to monitor it for appropriateness of content. Make it a point to look for cartoons and jokes which poke fun at the circumstances that cause negativity or conflict in the office. Start with a blank board each Monday morning, but keep the old ones. Put them together in a book and give them to the employee who’s had to deal with the most difficult customer that month, or was most effective in using humor to deal with a difficult problem on the job.
Another option is to place cartoons next to the serious messages you want people to read. They’ll stop for the cartoons, but the other messages will get read, as well. In health care settings, make photocopies of the cartoons and create cartoon booklets for patients.
7) Create a humor break room.
This room should contain cartoon and joke books, fun props, VCRs and audio tape recorders (with several sets of ear phones) so that employees can take brief humor breaks. Put a suggestion box in the room so that the kinds of humor employees like can be made available. As a variation on this idea, have a tape recorder containing 1- to 2-minute samples of standup comedy routines set up in the coffee room (change the tape every day). This will allow employees to have a laugh while getting their coffee—without taking any extra time.
Marguerite Chandler, president of Edmar, Inc., in Bound Brook New Jersey, stocked the employee lounge with comedy tapes, put up a humor bulletin board, and subscribed to a software service that provides a joke a day to employees.1
8) Create a tension release area.
Managing Office Technologymagazine keeps a stuffed (toy) pig called "Babe" (named after the pig in the movieBabe) in the common area of the office. When deadlines or other problems get staff members too stressed out, they engage in a silly bout of kicking Babe—in full view of whomever happens to be passing by. It’s a great stress-reliever, and creates the lighthearted spirit the company wants in the office.2The central office of one accounting firm has dart boards, hula hoops, decks of cards, and even a miniature golf course.
9) Have fun dress-up days.
Consider a day in which everyone is encouraged to wear a silly tie, shoes, shirt, etc. Many companies do this on Halloween or April Fools’ Day. The chief technology officer of one company dressed up as a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, planted himself at the cafeteria cash register, and offered a free lunch to anyone who could stump him with a technical question. Steve Siegel, CEO at Lipschultz, Levin and Gray, an accounting firm, sometimes wears a gorilla mask at his desk. Employees often greet customers in chicken costumes.3
If you organize an ugly tie day, wear the ugliest tie you have, and would love to get rid of. Anyone at work that day can demand your tie in exchange for their own, and you have to then wear that tie the rest of the day until someone else demands a trade. (You can also demand a trade yourself.) Women can do the same thing with shoes or scarves. (They can also seize the opportunity to dispose of ties they’ve long wanted their husbands to get rid of.)
10) Have cartoon caption contests.
This can be done using the bulletin board approach. Or send copies of a cartoon around before a meeting. Everyone who wants to do so submits a caption in advance. At the meeting, people vote on the funniest caption. Winner gets a fun prize.
Take photos of employees in unusual physical positions while interacting with each other. Put them on a bulletin board and invite funny captions below the photo. Give a prize to the caption judged funniest.