When you bring recreation to the workplace, you not only promote creativity and innovation, which can increase your profitability, you also reduce costs in employee turnover and health care.
~ Sarah Hanson
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, said, "There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation."
More companies are making play an integral part of each workday, as they find it pays off. Google encourages their employees to play beach volleyball, bowl or scale a rock wall on company time, and they provide access to all these activities at their headquarters in California. LinkedIn's employees play Ping-Pong or Foosball when they need to take a break, and one of Zappo's core values is to "create fun and a little weirdness."
When doing creative or intellectual work, productivity goes up when workers get the chance to take a fun break. Regardless of age or experience, everyone needs to be able to look at things from different angles. Climbing a rock wall takes the worker's mind off what they were working on so they can come back to it open and refreshed.
Another workplace issue is employee stress, which is increasing at an alarming rate. Businesses that incorporate fun into their
culture have much lower stress levels among their workers. Creating an environment where your staff is permitted to play makes them feel secure and more comfortable taking risks.
Next is the matter of employee motivation. In my mind, there is nothing worse than shuffling off to an uptight, serious work environment every day. People -- particularly Gen Yers -- lose motivation when their job is all work and no play. Fun keeps people engaged, and I have found this to be true in the workplace as well as the classroom.
In my 35 years of teaching at FSU, I have watched fun become a staple of the modern classroom. When I started in 1974, students were often only concerned with getting their degree and getting out. Taking time for fun would not have been accepted. Somewhere along the way, however, it became necessary to keep the students engaged.
In the 1980s, while teaching some intense finance classes, I found that I needed something to hold the students' attentions and help keep energy up. I started using magic to make the point of the lecture, and the students loved it. There was always a lot of laughter, especially when I messed up the trick, which was a regular occurrence.
Having a fun environment must start at the top. Leadership has to show the way. There are plenty of simple ways to infuse fun into your workplace. An unplanned ice cream break is a great example of an easy "random act of fun." Or you can hold clothing contests to see who has the ugliest tie, for example.
A great way to ensure fun remains a priority is to designate a high-level employee the "happiness engineer." That individual should be tasked with bringing regular and varied fun into work.
Jerry Osteryoung, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.