You can’t say the F-word at work. That’s right . . . fun.
Psychologists say fun is a basic psychological need, as important as being loved. But many people believe fun and work don’t mix.
Even at ChartHouse Learning, home of The FISH! Philosophy, we go to great lengths to emphasize Play is more than fun. We substitute words such as enjoyment, lightheartedness and positivity. We explain that Play is a mindset that stimulates fresh thinking and creativity.
But wherever Play is happening, fun will show up too. Rather than avoid any mention of fun, why not try to understand what it actually looks like? A survey of 2,000-plus employees by Bright HR, a UK company, reveals how people see fun at work. The study also reinforces how The FISH! Philosophy builds a foundation for fun.
1. It starts with relationships
Most people in the survey defined fun at work as “having great colleagues they enjoy spending time with.”
It makes sense. We spend more waking hours at work than with our families and spend more and more time collaborating in teams. Studies show people who have positive relationships with coworkers are more likely to be engaged in their work and to stay with the job.
Others in the survey described workplace fun as celebrating team achievements or working together at charity events. Teams that live The FISH! Philosophy focus first on being there for coworkers and making their day, and fun naturally follows.
2. Be yourself
Another leading survey description of workplace fun was “social events”, such as games, office parties or nights out as a group.
In the same way that playing together helps children learn social skills, having fun with coworkers in informal situations helps you understand their likes and dislikes, personality traits and boundaries. People are more willing to let their guards down and be themselves. Honesty improves teamwork.
It’s also been shown that informal, “hallway” conversations, where people feel safe to share and play with ideas, lead to greater creativity than official meetings.
3. Trust is key
Also high on the workplace fun list was “a relaxed environment”, such as casual dress days, a pool table or ping pong table.
You can’t encourage fun at work without trusting staff’s judgment—and that’s not always easy. After introducing FISH! and Play to his employees, an auto dealership noticed two technicians tossing a football near the service line during a break. “I wasn’t sure that worked,” he admitted, but said nothing. Later, he heard one of the technicians tell the other that playing catch near the cars didn’t “feel right.”
Make sure everyone understands the business’s goals and values, then give them the opportunity to find what Play helps them achieve those goals. They’ll feel more ownership for their culture and monitor what’s appropriate.
4. A sense of control
According to the survey, fun isn’t the same for everyone. For example, men were more likely to define fun at work as activities such as table tennis, video games or fantasy football leagues. Women defined fun as office pets, massages, bringing food or charity work.
The most notable difference in perception of fun was job function. The higher their salary, the more people defined fun as “doing work-related tasks that are interesting and fulfilling.” But workers at the lowest salary levels were most likely to define fun as “clocking out.” And they were least likely to say they had experienced any fun at work in the previous six months.
The difference is feeling a sense of control of your life—another basic psychological need. Higher-paying jobs tend to offer more of it, lower-pay jobs offer less.
It isn’t easy to find fun in a repetitive, efficiency-driven job. Start by giving employees a voice. Ask what they would do to have more fun at work, in a way that helps them achieve the company’s goals.
Leaders set the tone. Bring enthusiasm to work. Choose a positive, playful attitude. Be There for employees. Make Their Day. You’ll inspire them to do the same.
5. Fun is the future
The Bright HR survey found younger workers craved fun at work more than older generations. Almost 80% of workers 18-24 rated workplace fun as important and 90% felt workplace fun would reduce stress.
This isn’t surprising. We all love fun when we’re young, the thinking goes, until the demands of adulthood beat it out of us.
But it’s likely the desire for fun at work will only grow as “lines between work and life are blurred.” Younger workers are “rarely away from office email or contact with their colleagues on social media,” the survey notes. If it’s not possible to leave your work fully behind to have fun and relieve stress, then fun—a universal need—will have to be integrated into the job.
And when social media-savvy workers are having fun at work, they’re likely to tell others about it—making fun an important recruiting tool.