When I was told a consultant was going to teach me about fun at work, I thought, “This will be like trying to teach Ghengis Kahn how to conquer.” Fun is in my DNA. Isn’t “fun at work” an oxymoron, anyway? There’s a reason it’s called work, and it’s not because it’s fun.
That said, there’s a huge movement now around that topic. Our organizational development (OD) consultant, Leslie Yerkes, more or less invented the concept (or at least invented the category for Amazon’s book department).
It doesn’t mean fun in the literal sense. It is code for a management/leadership style that is collaborative, not confrontational. It means providing a space that is emotionally and psychologically safe, where high-performance behavior thrives. Where collaboration is king. Where command and control leadership is banished. It is the icing on the cake; it is not a behavior in itself. It is somewhat intangible.
It is said that if you genuinely enjoy your job, you never really work a day in your life. Fun at work is when everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Fun is a result, not a process. It is an output, not an input.
Attracting, recruiting and retaining employees is on everyone’s front burner now. Along these lines, culture trumps everything else. Everyone wants to be part of a good culture. My mother was forever telling me, “If it makes you happy to be happy, then be happy. If it makes you happy to be sad, then be sad.” She was a little old Italian lady, and like the stereotype, she always had great advice.
“You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar,” was another saying. Both of these go to the root of the philosophy of fun at work. The goal of all businesses is high performance. It’s easier to get high performance from a team when everyone is pulling in one direction, rather than a team that is full of dissension and misery. Happy cows make more milk. That, and your employees won’t stick around a place that’s full of negative energy. They’ll leave for something better, and good luck finding new ones in today’s labor market.
The nascent field of OD is a relatively young area of study. It certainly wasn’t around when Taylorism (extreme optimization of efficiency of labor and workflow) was the rage. Fun at work and Taylorism were never uttered in the same sentence. It’s a different world today.
Pets at work are all the rage at casual workplaces, including many tech companies. This is a great example of fun at work. They make for a more relaxing, informal environment, which is beneficial to all. Of course, everyone is not literally having fun playing with puppies all day. The dogs I’ve seen at work usually just lay there by their owner’s desk. Fun at work is about the positive attitude, the concept, not literally fun and games.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” is a famous quote that’s often mangled and misattributed. I always add the caveat, “I’m only here to have fun, but it’s more fun to win.” ●
Steve Peplin is CEO of Talan Products