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Fun and games on the job


 “You can learn more about a person in one hour of play than a year of conversation.”

Barbara Brannen, Top Banana at Playmore, uses Plato’s wisdom to describe the many rewards of interjecting playfulness into your business culture. “Employees have a lot to give in the workplace,” she says. “By creating an atmosphere where people can laugh together, you create the type of place where people want to work.” And that’s what generates the benefits.

When people want to work for you, you save the costs of hiring and training new people and retain your corporate knowledge. Your reputation attracts top talent. Employees communicate more easily, get along better and make better decisions. They feel free to innovate. People are motivated and productive, and much less stressed. There are fewer absent, late and sick employees. Your customers are better served and stay with you longer. All of this, and more, goes directly to the bottom line.

It’s easy to see that playfulness is a good thing; and if you can’t remember the last time you had fun on the job, there’s work to be done.

Can you manufacture workplace fun?

Fun in the workplace should be a natural outgrowth of your current environment. As convenient as it would be, you really can’t impose your idea of fun from the top down. What’s fun to you may not be for me. Age, personality, family and economic background, personal value systems and a host of other factors determine what makes us joyful. The minute someone begins mandating that others participate in their brand of fun, it ceases to be fun.

If you require employees to join the team after work for pizza and beer, you’ll alienate those who’ve had a burnout day or want to get home to their families. If you allow people to bring pets to work, those who are allergic or afraid will be stressed. And where’s the fun in an Outward Bound-type teambuilding excursion if some on the team are deathly afraid of heights?

Fun should fit your culture and your people

Introduce fun in the context of your people and your culture. Although you can’t please everyone all of the time, elements of fun shouldn’t be a burden or distract or disturb productivity. Fun can thrive anywhere, as long as it reflects your organization’s values and the assumptions that define behavior in your workplace. Other than that, looking at diverse companies across the country, just about anything goes, from Wii games to a 3,700 square foot “Nerditorium” theater for meetings, to in-house Olympics and Nerf wars. Imaginations don’t have to run wild to create some playfulness in your workplace, however. Fun can be a simple thing like hosting an ice cream social on a Friday afternoon.

Fun is an attitude worth cultivating

More than anything else, fun is an attitude. Think about the type of people who are uplifting to be around and you’ll probably find that what they have in common is knowing how to laugh and have fun. People with a sense of humor are thought to be more creative and productive, and they get along better with others. Make a point of hiring those people! And, if you’re a business leader, become one of those people so that you can model, promote and foster the organic growth of fun in your culture. According to sociologist and author Martha Beck, the average preschooler laughs or smiles 400 times a day. The average 35-year-old? Fifteen times per day. The fact is, we spend on average 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime—that’s close to 4,000 days. Let’s make them fun—and more profitable.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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