July 1, 2021 kirstycooke

What does it mean to have fun at work?

I value ‘having fun’ above pretty much all else, but what does it MEAN in a work setting? Is it OK to focus on fun, and how can you make it happen more?

I can’t speak for many career paths, but I am a firm believer that it’s possible – in most jobs – to have fun at work. I PARTICULARLY believe that if you work in a creative job, or something you wanted to do as a child, or something you don’t find TOO difficult, that it would be WILD not to ‘find and follow the fun’ on a very regular basis.

Of course, many people find themselves in very demanding roles, or doing something for money that they really hate. I feel very sad for those people, because – as those Glaswegian banter merchants say – you’re here for a good time, not a long time. And spending so much of our time ‘at work’ each day, usually, means we are missing a lot of opportunities for fun – if we don’t seek it out.

What do we mean by “fun”?

Now, there is a difference between HAVING FUN and just… not resenting your work. Finding it doable. Making some friends. Being grateful that you get to take breaks and don’t have to do the toilet in a plastic bottle or something.

But when I talk about finding fun, and following fun (a phrase I take from the world of improvised comedy, btw), it’s something a little more active. It’s a choice and a mindset – a decision to enjoy myself, to poke fun at the system, to subvert expectations a little and – crucially – maintain perspective. “It’s just [marketing/tax accounting/HR/transponding], it doesn’t REALLY matter.” (Yeah, that line is definitely easier with office jobs.)

Laughter. Making games of things. Treating each other like real humans who, crucially, we assume have the best intentions.

Like so many things (see: ‘being authentic’), I’m sure this ‘fun’ banter could be used as a cover for being a nuisance, and that’s not my suggestion. It’s not fun if it’s not fun for those around you. It’s not fun if someone is being made fun OF. It’s not fun if the outcome results in serious reputational damage for your business. I feel you knew all of that.

Benefits of fun

It’s not news to anyone that having fun… makes us happy. Releases those nice chemicals that are not only good in the moment, but ideal for our brain in the long-term. But is there a benefit specifically at work?

Well, if you are happy, you are likely to be more engaged – and more productive. Boom! Win for the man!

Of course, the more happy YOU are, the more likely you are to spread joy to your colleagues, and make THEM feel more engaged. That ‘company culture’ you keep hearing about? You are part of it! What do you want it to feel like…?

I’d also say, poking fun at something that isn’t working can be a good way to get to a solution. We’ve all felt anger towards some system or process, but doesn’t it feel better to have a jolly good laugh about it – and then pinpoint more clearly what the issue is? Humour helps us open up, and gets our creative brains going.

Finally, I’d point out that if you are working somewhere that kills FUN dead in its tracks, you’ve found a really quick way to ascertain that it’s Not A Great Place To Work – and can move on. I hope. Good luck.

Is it OK to aim for fun?

You might be worried about the balance of fun and professionalism, but there are a few things I would say about that. Firstly, it helps to work out what ‘professional’ means in the context of your actual role. A lot of people play the character of ‘serious working person’ when actually there is very little demand on them to be morose.

If you have to face clients, especially v. senior people, or from industries you don’t understand very well or cultures/countries that differ to your own, a cautious approach is recommended. However, it doesn’t take much good listening (and smiling) to work out where the person you are talking to finds their levity. And I always value connections built on fun rather than fear.

What I’ve noticed is that when the job titles are moved to one side, and we can connect over something funny and true and interesting, the actual work becomes so much easier.

How to have more fun!

  1. Allow yourself to spot funny things. Be on the look out for things that would make you laugh if a friend said it. (You don’t need to point it out if it would make someone uncomfortable.) Someone mix up ‘SEO’ and ‘CEO’ in a meeting? A competitor’s new logo look rude if you turn it on its side? The world is funny, people.
  2. Turn tasks into games! OK, this is slightly lame, but in a WFH world it’s pretty FUN to reward yourself with Skittles for every line of copy you edit, or give every colleague a special dance routine that you do when they pop up in your inbox. In a team task, find ways to make it gently competitive, or tie it into a hobby you all enjoy.
  3. Add in elements of things you love. Food, drink, ornaments that make you smile… whatever the work situation allows, go for it.
  4. Smile and laugh. They are very virtuous circles.
  5. Practice listening. I need this reminder (as a chatty Kathy) but really picking up on what people are saying (and not saying) will help you find the sweet spot for ‘fun’ that improves communication overall – and doesn’t make anyone uncomfy.
  6. Speak plainly. Notice when you use business nonsense, and try to swap for a word you would use with your best friend. Would you tell them to go leverage synergies? Or deliver actionable insights? Talking like a human creates approachability and definitely opens the door to more fun at work. (NB using more interesting language that isn’t plain or normal is also encouraged! Did you find an email ‘joyful’, or a report ‘sparkling’, or a meeting to be ‘tremendous’? Whip out that vocab and see recipients beam!)
  7. Share cultural moments. We might not all be fans of football/Love Island/reading the news, but we can usually find shared experiences that don’t relate to spreadsheets or coffee machines. If we can’t banter about the last Christmas party, perhaps we can chinwag about a popular TV show, or recommend a podcast that had us howling.
  8. Set boundaries. You can’t have fun at work if you have no life in which to have the other kind of fun.
  9. Make other people feel funny. It’s easy to focus on your own enjoyment (in life), but a tip from my improv life is that the show is always better if you focus on making everyone else look good. The more you share the love (with laughter, encouragement and compliments), the more fun EVERYONE will have.
  10. Organise fun stuff. Team events might not be in your official remit, but they are likely not in anyone else’s. Again: if you want a fun culture; make a fun culture!

There are so many caveats to ‘having fun at work’ that I almost didn’t post this, so please don’t be offended if you think I’ve been tone deaf. Life is hard, work is hard; following the fun is the only philosophy I know. Let me know if it works for you!

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