Fun works

Leslie Yerkes believes American businesses are starved for fun in the workplace.

But all is not lost, she says. There are plenty of business owners out there who understand the need for fun and use it effectively in their companies.

Yerkes, president of Cleveland-based Catalyst Consulting Group, researched companies nationwide known for their successful integration of fun and work. Then, last year, she hit the road to visit each one and talk face-to-face with the owners, managers and employees.

Yerkes collected their stories and shares them in her new book, “Fun Works: Creating places where people love to work” (Berett-Koehler Publishers, In it, she outlines 11 principles she believes are the fundamentals to fusing work and fun:

Give permission to perform. Allow people to bring their whole selves to work each day.

Challenge your bias. Removes self-imposed beliefs that block the release of your full being.

Capitalize on the spontaneous. This is not a program but a philosophy. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.

Trust the process. You can’t muscle energy. A laugh that is forced is not a true laugh.

Value the diversity of style. We don’t all do it the same way.

Expand the boundaries. Don’t make rules that limit the process.

Be authentic. Be true to your self at all times. Be conscientious.

Be choiceful. Embrace the whole person.

Hire good people and get out of the way. Trust your employees to use their judgment.

Embrace expansive thinking and risk taking. Learn how to harness and develop the full potential of employees.

Celebrate. There is nothing more fun than the celebration of success.

Yerkes says her philosophy is simple: People are basically good, well-intentioned, courageous and able to learn. In her role at Catalyst, she helps business owners build a framework in which employees can draw on their inner resources to find creative solutions.

SBN Magazine sat down with her to get a better understanding of her ideas on how any business owner can add a touch of fun to the workplace without sacrificing the end product.

Can you explain the notion of fun?

Fun is simple, universal and understood by everyone. Each person has to define it for themselves in relationship to their work. It isn’t fun when it is prescribed, dictated or managed.

Why is it important to integrate it in the workplace?

You and I spend more time at work than at any other activity in our daily lives. Most of us are experiencing increasingly more stress associated with our work. Our attitude toward work is changing.

If we cannot find a balance — the right blend that results in our experiencing our work as meaningful and enjoyable — then we cannot sustain our connection to that work. Healthy individuals and organizations will be those that attract and retain talent, practice the fundamentals and learn how to invite the whole person to work each day so that they can experience joy and even fun in their work.

When this happens, the results take care of themselves.

So how can a business owner implement fun into the workplace without losing the serious nature of the business?

To begin, we must rid ourselves of the myth that fun edges out serious work. It is not an either/or proposition. To be substantive in your work does not mean you cannot also have fun. The two are not incompatible. In fact, individuals and organizations who discover how to blend and integrate the two realize extraordinary benefits. I like to call it fun/work fusion.

I am an advocate for the fundamentals — quality, service, talented employees, competent leadership, open communication and fiscal responsibility — but don’t forget the fun.

Business owners and managers who learn how to integrate fun instead of treating it as an add-on separate from work are able to attract and retain peak performers, foster an environment that supports risk-taking and innovation and which creates lasting relationships with internal and external clients. It is about creating a sustainable relationship with work.

How should one start? It’s easy — just bring the best of your whole self to work each day. If that is too vague, I have created an 11 principle path for anyone to learn how to behave their way into a more robust relationship with their work.

First, we had the days of blue suits and ties, strict hours and a regimented workplace. Then came casual Fridays and even full casual offices. Now the trend seems be to moving back to jackets and ties, bringing with them more professional attire and attitudes. How can a business owner create a healthy balance that won’t be swept away with the next trend?

If you trust your employees with the most valuable assets of your business, why not trust them to use their judgment in creating the balance between fun and work? If the workplace has clear goals, standards and rewards, then individuals know the ‘what’ of their work. If you trust them with the ‘how,’ they might figure out how to get their work done while incorporating fun. In fact, this combination might produce results that exceed the goals. How to reach: Catalyst Consulting Group, (216) 241-3939,

Dustin Klein ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.