How to make work fun
All work and no play makes for a dull job. While the focus is often on productivity and engagement, there should be space for people to enjoy work too. Here's how to create a fun working environment to help your organization flourish.
Fun and the workplace aren’t normally words that go together. But why not? After all, we spend enough time at work – 81,396 hours each on average, to be precise. That’s the equivalent of more than nine years. Imagine going that long without so much as a chuckle. Surely, it doesn’t hurt to let off some steam and have a laugh with colleagues now and again? In fact, some would say it’s essential to enjoy work.
As US author and self-help guru Dale Carnegie once said: “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
Why fun at work is important
Some bosses see fun at work as unprofessional – an unwelcome distraction that affects concentration and takes valuable time away from important tasks. But that view can be short-sighted.
It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to be switched on every minute of every day, and a full-on, micromanaged environment generally doesn’t bring out the best in people.
Fortunately, injecting some fun into the working day can lead to a more positive work environment, reduce staff churn and help employees thrive. Here are some of the benefits:
Happier, healthier employees
Whether in the office or working remotely, employees who have fun at work are more likely to avoid the negative effects of stress and anxiety. A bit of light relief can do wonders for people’s wellbeing as it reduces feelings of isolation and promotes a positive mindset.
A working environment that’s dull, monotonous and lacks any sense of fun can lead to feelings of boredom, disengagement and even depression.
If your employees are miserable and demoralized, it stands to reason that they feel less motivated to do a task and certainly won’t give it their best effort. Happier employees, on the other hand, are more productive, driven and resilient.
That means a fun office environment is good for your bottom line. According to research by Gallup, companies with a highly engaged workforce are 23% more profitable.
Better communication and collaboration
Collaboration is essential for productivity, creativity, innovation and performance. If your employees are having fun, they’ll enjoy talking and collaborating on a deeper, more emotional level, leading to better results all round.
Fun can also break down communication barriers between teams who work for the same organization but in different departments.
Staff who stay
People who enjoy their jobs are more likely to want to stick around. A dull workplace can lead to high turnover because disengaged employees will look for opportunities elsewhere.
Businesses can pay a high price for poor retention rates as it can cost between six and nine months’ salary to replace an employee . High turnover rates can also lead to a loss of vital skills and institutional knowledge, making it harder for companies to gain a competitive edge.
People who work together typically spend a lot of time in each other’s company, sometimes even more than with their own families. In stressful situations, this can lead to tension and acrimony, which can be hugely detrimental to the smooth running of your organization.
Lightening the mood can help to prevent conflicts and serious disagreements arising. When team members know it’s okay to relax and have fun at work, it builds a sense of togetherness and trust.
In the UK, a record 185.6 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in 2022. When companies prioritize employees’ happiness and wellbeing, the result is a more positive work environment, fewer work-related errors and lower levels of staff absence.
More creativity and innovation
Social play is a vital part of healthy development, right from an early age. Being more childlike is great for out-of-the-box thinking. Teams that are full of happy hormones tend to be more creative and open-minded.
A lack of stimulation in the workplace can stifle innovation, and no one is at their creative best when they’re overly tired and stressed.
It’s easier and more enjoyable for employees to collaborate with people they’re friendly with than those they simply see as a colleague or, worse, someone they don’t get along with. Having fun together is a great way for your team to learn more about one another and understand what makes them tick.
A ‘friends culture‘ is associated with greater job satisfaction and camaraderie. In fact, Gallup research shows that female employees with a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged than those without.
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Benefits of a fun working environment
The benefits of having fun at work are backed up by the results of the UK’s Great Place to Work survey.
It found that fun is the number one driver of wellbeing for workers. Employees who have fun at work are 190% to 220% more likely to have high wellbeing levels. And, interestingly, it’s the same for every generation.
Gen Z (born 1997-2012) are 2.9x more likely to experience high wellbeing levels if they report working in a fun environment.
Millennials (born 1981-1996) are 3.1x more likely to have high wellbeing levels.
Gen X (born 1965-1980) are 3.2x more likely to have high wellbeing levels.
Boomers (born 1946-1964) are 3.2x more likely to have high wellbeing levels.
A Harvard Business Review article also features some interesting findings. These are based on employee recognition expert Bob Nelson’s research into companies that apply for inclusion on the 100 Best Places to Work For list.
It shows that 81% of employees at organizations ranked as ‘great’ described their office environments as fun. At companies that applied for inclusion but which didn’t make the list, only 62% of employees described their environments as fun. That 19% difference speaks volumes about the importance of playfulness and humor to the everyday.
Workplaces that made the top 100 outperform average companies across a range of key business performance indicators, including productivity, retention and recruitment.
How to create a fun work environment
First, it’s important to bear in mind that one person’s idea of fun at work may be very different to another’s. Your team members are individuals, with different personalities and interests, so this needs to be taken into account when you plan team activities.
More importantly, fun can’t be forced, so never make anyone feel pressured into taking part in an activity that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Here are a few ideas for how to create a fun work culture:
Games and competitions are a good way to help lower the pressure and take people’s minds off everyday stresses. Ideas include office bingo, treasure hunts and baking competitions.
If you have a remote team, you could run virtual games like quizzes, fantasy sports leagues and online escape rooms.
If your team has a large project to complete, consider breaking it down into smaller numbered tasks with prizes for completing each one. Even if it’s just a pastry or logging off half-an-hour early, it’ll help people feel appreciated and lighten the mood.
Go on team outings
Socializing as a team is one of the best ways to forge relationships outside of work. Whether it’s team lunches or a bowling night, enjoying a more relaxed environment can inspire better teamwork and collaboration back in the office.
It’s also a chance for employees to see a different side to their managers. This can make them appear more human and approachable.
Take part in team building activities
From meeting room icebreakers to corporate away days, team building exercises can help strengthen togetherness.
There are some fun virtual team building activities available online too, so remote workers don’t feel left out. These can include everything from solving virtual crime cases to resolving work-related dilemmas. The beauty of online games is that they can last for as little as 15 minutes so won’t take up much of your day.
With only three in 10 employees having a best friend at work , it can be beneficial to help friendships grow between team members.
Increase opportunities for contact, whether that’s face-to-face or virtual. Using VR, for example, can create a real feeling of being in the same room together even when people are miles apart. And think about establishing a buddy system, especially for new hires. Some of these initial connections may even lead to lifelong friendships.
Remember to show appreciation for employees’ contributions to the everyday as well as their major successes. Perhaps they’ve solved a particular problem or overcome a personal challenge, for example. Praise them with a shoutout in the company chat, or a personal thank-you message.
Another idea is to ask people to answer a few questions about their hobbies and favorite food and drink etc. Then use this profile to surprise them with a meaningful reward when recognizing their hard work or celebrating a work anniversary.
Most people have interests outside of work, so when you’re thinking about how to create a fun work culture, consider giving your staff a chunk of time each month for hobbies.
While compulsory cocktails and office playgrounds full of games and toys might belong in the past, it’s still important for employees to be able to let their hair down from time to time. Just be careful to listen to what they actually want.
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