“This is our breakout area. As you can see, we’ve got a pool table, an ironic Space Invaders machine, several broken Apple Macs hanging on the exposed brick wall, craft beer on tap, though I think the keg’s empty… Oh, and that khaki tent in the corner is for meetings. Of course, there’s nobody in here at the moment as we’re all so busy working.”
Lots of businesses claim to have a fun work culture, especially when they’re advertising for new employees. A glance through the job ads would lead you to believe that every employee’s life is brimming with fun. Unfortunately this perception – like the ads – isn’t entirely true.
Who has fun at work?
It’s hard to find reliable research about the percentage of people who have fun at work. That says a lot about how little most businesses care about fun. Perhaps they should care more, since their potential employees do.
For now, a fun workplace seems the exception rather than the rule. Most people’s main goal for employment is earning money. Expecting the job to be fun too is like wishing for world peace. It’s a lovely dream, but unlikely to happen. Or is it?
Workplaces can be fun
I did once have a job that was fun. I worked in a magazine publishing house with some clever, interesting, sociable and often quite strange people.
I got to do what I enjoyed all day with relatively little intervention from the hands-off management. And at least once a week there would be a party, pub session or sponsored work trip somewhere interesting.
Work and play
So work can be fun, but there are good reasons why it often isn’t. The biggest one is the most obvious: work is what people are paid to do. When you think of these three words – work, fun, play – it’s clear which two go together.
Play is fun. Play is doing something you enjoy, with no pressures or expectations. Play is the opposite of work. Work is doing something you’re paid for, with very real pressures and expectations.
The reward for play is pleasure. The reward for work is money. Without those rewards, most people wouldn’t bother doing either. But this is where it gets interesting.
Culture, productivity and cost savings
For most of recorded history, the idea that work could be fun would have seemed insane. That has changed over the past couple of decades.
- Employees have realized that with the right attitude it is possible to enjoy at least some of their work. That makes it easier to endure.
- Employers have realized that the more their staff enjoy what they do, and the better the work culture, the higher their productivity will be. And coincidentally, the lower the salary they’ll be willing to accept.
For many people, money is a driving force only when they don’t have enough of it. Once their basic needs are satisfied then extra money makes a decreasing difference to happiness.
Most people spend at least 40 hours a week at work, so a fun workplace culture would make a big difference to happiness. But how do you move your business into the ‘fun’ category?
Making your workplace culture more fun
Forget about the pool table. The real solution is harder to implement. It comes down to good management. Here are some tips:
- Hire people who are good at what they do. It’s likely they’re good at it because they enjoy doing it.
- Let them do their work. Don’t micromanage or interfere. Set reasonable goals, then get out of the way.
- Don’t overwork your employees. It’s easy to drive staff too hard. Give them breathing space, room to relax, socialize and chat with each other.
- Discourage conformity. People often put on a work persona along with their office clothes. They believe they must behave in a certain way. Relax the rules a little – not too much – and your employees will start to relax too.
- Buy the drinks. Sacrifice the last hour or two of work on a Friday and put some money behind the bar for your team.
- Have an office party. Make it a good one.
I realize that some of these tips go against conventional management wisdom. I honestly don’t know if doing all these things would make your business more profitable or successful. But working for you would be a whole lot of fun.
Alex Cruickshank has been a business writer since 1994 and a serial entrepreneur since 1996. He owns Ministry of Prose, a writing agency based in New Zealand.