One of my mantras is “Work Can Be Fun Again”. So what?! Why would that be a goal? Most managers don’t care if the ones they supervise are having fun. The better managers want people happy, but even most good managers never consider ‘fun’.

I believe fun is a necessary component to quality, productive work. Yes, fun. There is no reason that everyone at your business can’t be having fun doing their job. In the immortal words of Mary Poppins, “in every job that must done there is an element of fun.”

Of course there are jobs where thinking in terms of ‘fun’ may not seem appropriate. Can surgery be fun? Can disaster relief be fun? With respect and consideration, yes.

Before we go further with this, we have to agree that fun contributes to productivity. Does it?

I assert that people will look forward to going to a fun job. They will work harder at a fun job. They will be loyal to a workplace they consider fun. And, the fun will come through as positive attitude which will spread to the customers of the business. Fun is good.

But what is fun at work?

In my opinion, fun is not about free beer Fridays (an old Apple tradition) or skating through the hallways or playing video games during business hours. I’m not referring to play. Play on your time.

Fun is having a good time doing what your job entails. I love new projects. I love clients that let me experiment with things to improve their business. I love presenting new ideas that might add to a company’s bottom line. That’s my idea of fun. It’s fun to go after a big new client for one of my clients.

When I’m having fun doing those things, I don’t care about billable hours. I care about producing with the trust the client has given me. (Secret: I often work a lot more hours than I bill when I’m having fun trying to solve a problem or achieve a big breakthrough)

What I do is always fun, right? No. Sometimes it’s terribly stressful and unrewarding. Sometimes it’s no fun at all even with great accomplishments.

Sometimes the client won’t listen to new ideas. Sometimes the client wants to argue every new thought—even things that are obvious. Sometimes clients dismiss very big accomplishments as “that’s what we’re paying you to do.” Some fun.

I know how the smothering of any possibility of fun stifles my own enthusiasm. I see how this also kills the enthusiasm of those who work at an organization where fun is not on the menu.

When fun is killed, errors soar. Tension rises. Service declines. The customer base erodes. Costs rise. Sick days increase.

These are expensive consequences.

So what can you try in order to put a little fun in your business? Start with the easy things. Congratulate your talent when they accomplish something. Simply tell your talent that you are pleased with their work. Mention that you were especially happy with the way [think of something] came out. You will be amazed at the energy boost these little things will inject into the business.

Want to go further? Have a meeting. Set the rules up front: No Bitching Allowed.  Now, we’d like to make things better, anyone have any ideas? Adopt any idea short of insanity. Don’t argue. Don’t make it “your” idea. Just discuss and adopt. (Novel idea! Actually listen to the people doing the work?!)

There are a million things you can do to bring fun back to your workplace without getting silly or unprofessional. You won’t have to add cost. You know that real fun, what you remember as having been fun, is cheap.

A Story

In the “old days”, Sears used to have an annual sale called Sears Days. I think they still have this sale but they’ve sucked the fun out of it. In those days, the store managers were usually stodgy, serious older men who were addressed as “boss”. The store manager was respected and a little feared. But during Sears Days, something remarkable would happen. The store staff would conspire to kidnap the store manager—all in fun. I remember one year we recruited a staff member’s friend in the police force to take the ‘boss’ downtown to answer a few questions. The boss was led away to a patrol car which delivered him to a nice hotel where he would stay for 2 days and enjoy room service.

Back at the store, it was our job to have a terrific sale. We had to show that we could do better without the boss than with the boss. We’d work like crazy on really cool displays. The shelves stayed neat and stocked. The sales staff suggested add-ons—sales always went well. Everyone had fun working like hell to beat the prior records with the boss gone.

The boss would return on Monday and the sales reports from the weekend would be taped to his chair or made into a poster or something to “rub it in”. He would call a staff meeting and tell us how well we did without him but we were not to pull that stunt again—wink wink.

It was a great tradition and one I miss.

Can’t work be fun again at your business?

Chris Reich