What constitutes ‘fun’ at work, and why is ‘fun’ in the workplace deemed essential anyway? And more crucially for business owners, does having a fun workplace bring real benefits to the business?
We asked change consultant, Philip Cox-Hynd to share his experience and reveal the 9 Do’s and Don’ts of building an open and honest work culture where employees feel valued and engaged.
Social change transforming workplaces
In many ways ‘fun’ has been a growing part of social change over the last two decades or more. It started with a change in attitude to dress code outside of work, and the correlating rise of the T-shirt and jeans entrepreneur.
This has now become the norm with many companies, such as my most recent client, a financial investment company which doesn’t even have a named dress policy; they quite simply allow everybody to turn up in whatever they feel comfortable in, be that in jeans, shorts, t-shirts or whatever.
Many feel the drift in change of dress makes people feel more relaxed at work, allows them to loosen up, perhaps be not quite so stiff, even – dare I say – have a bit of fun!
In other companies there has been the introduction of showers at work so that people could exercise on the way there or during a break. Some companies have gone as far as having a gym within the offices.
Modern workplaces more like homes
Other aspects of life at work have also undergone the ‘fun’ transformation. I know of one client company in the IT industry that has no individual offices, no individual desks and five café areas where people can meet and eat.
The food and drink are free and no mobile phones are allowed at the tables. Without a hierarchy in the planned office space, management and employees can mix in a friendlier, more organic way.
There are even ‘phone pods’; large egg shaped padded swivel chairs where the chair back extends over the person’s head, a bit like a very large duck egg with just the front third removed and once sat in this sound proofed egg, individuals can talk on the phone (mobile of course, they don’t use landlines), to clients or colleagues without disturbing others on the nearby hot-desks.
Walking around these offices it is easy to forget that these are in fact places of work as the wall coverings are loud then quiet, empty spaces have been filled with table football, video games, chess and table tennis.
All in all, what this company and many others like them have ended up doing is providing an environment that represents an idealised version of the modern home.
Less distinction between work and home
A decade or two ago the distinction between work and home was much clearer: before smart phones and emails most people’s work could only be done at the workplace. Hours were more distinct and therefore it was easier to gain a balance quite naturally between work and non-work because the dividing lines were clear.
With the advent of email, smart phones and the Internet, most people can do most of their work anywhere and at any time. This presents a whole range of challenges regarding not only ‘work life balance’, but actually balancing employees’ mental state and physical wellbeing.
‘All work and no play’ doesn’t just ‘make Jack a dull boy’, it can kill his excitement for life!
This can all sound a little gloomy and is a large part of the reason that I won’t advocate the removal of ‘fun filled’ things in the work place.
The truth is the Internet does exist, 24hr access to colleagues exists, and so anything that can make people’s work life feel more like the comforts of home can in many ways take the pressure off…. to a degree.
However, if any company, be it Facebook or Google or some of the other famous exponents of this ‘fun filled’, home-like, workplace experiment, thinks that free food, bean bags and ping pong will be enough by itself to produce ‘fun at work’, then they will probably be disappointed.
‘Fun at work’ can be misleading
In many ways, ‘fun at work’ is a misleading phrase. It’s a bit like targeting happiness in relationships; if it happens at all it usually happens as a result of doing several things that may result in happiness, but it is rarely the sole objective.
I don’t go out for a drink with my mates with the express purpose of ‘getting happy’ or having fun, yet I would probably look back on the night and say ‘that was fun, we had a laugh’.
Similarly, the search for fun in the workplace through ‘fun inducing’ changes to environment will only tend to work when the fundamental ability of those in the workplace to do work that is satisfying, fulfilling, valued and rewarding, takes place in some way.
It can be difficult to nail down exactly how fun aids productivity or indeed how to create ‘productive’ fun. But if people leave work at the end of the week, and when reflecting back in amongst all of the frustration, challenges and difficulties, feel that they have made some kind of difference, that’s a step in the right direction.
And if they feel, even fleetingly satisfied, in some way shape or form and appreciated too, then there’s a chance that they may feel they had a bit of fun at work as well.
But at the end of the day, I doubt if it will be as a result of the table football or dress down Friday by itself.
9 Do’s & Don’ts of Creating a fun working environment
When looking to introduce a more fun-oriented workplace you need to be careful how you do it. If you want to engage your employees and boost productivity, here are 9 Do’s & Don’ts for you to follow;
- DO create a culture, by example from the leadership, of open and honest communication. ‘Real’ relationships are a context for fun to emerge, rather than for it to feel false.
- DON’T carry out survey monkey type testing of the cultural temperature if it’s the ONLY time you collect feedback on ‘fun’ at work.
- DO make sure that goals are set by mutual agreement with all direct reports: working in this way can counter-balance the ‘fun’ atmosphere being misinterpreted as ‘do what you like when you want to’.
- DON’T install ‘fun’ activities like ping pong or video games from the top down as it can come across as ‘enforced fun’.
- DO ask for ideas as to what would make their working environment feel more productive, enjoyable and ‘fun’.
- But DON’T do so without clearly stating the limits of what maybe possible: avoid asking then appearing to say ‘no’!
- DO enter into 1:1 dialogue with direct reports as to what they feel would alleviate stress, ‘fun’ may happen as a result.
- DON’T make ‘fun’ into a target that has to be reached. Foster its growth, don’t force its death.
- DO work in a way that makes people feel satisfied and accomplished; target things that let people feel valued for what they do
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Philip Cox-Hynd, a change implementation specialist and author of Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice.
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