Are we having fun yet? That typically sarcastic comment could easily be the mantra of many small businesses in the years since the Great Recession ushered in the “new normal.” The era of ever-tightening margins and a myopic focus on the monthly P&L has industry veterans and newcomers alike asking, “When did we stop having fun?” You may think there’s no time for fun and games, but in a service business that ultimately depends on people to fuel results, workplace fun could easily make the difference between greatness and mediocrity.
Research by California State University Long Beach revealed people who have fun at work are more creative, are more productive, make better decisions and work better with others. They also are late or call in sick less often than workers who don’t have fun.
A happy workforce is better equipped to face challenges in growing a small business, better motivated to produce great results for the team and better able to delight customers.
Maintaining a culture that includes regular fun also contributes to the achievement of that elusive work/life balance so many job applicants seek. That can become a powerful differentiator when a candidate is choosing between a career with your growing company, or the big bucks being offered by a larger competitor you couldn’t hope to match in benefits.
So, does this mean you have to become the next Google, turning your campus into a playground with nap rooms and laundry facilities? Not exactly. But it does require a shift of focus from the inanimate numbers on the spreadsheet, to the people who produce those results.
Creating a fun work environment doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Having fun at work could be as simple as a monthly birthday celebration, a weekly joke board in the shop or a yearly scavenger hunt. Bob Pike, author of “The Fun Minute Manager,” suggests incorporating both formal and informal activities into your work fun.
Sometimes infusing more fun at work involves identifying which part of the job people don’t enjoy, and then finding a way to make that less miserable. For example, if people hate meetings, why not open each meeting with something fun, like a recognition celebration for personal or professional achievements? Or even pick one meeting a quarter where the topic is fun – teach your team how to juggle, or have people show off a favorite hobby.
Here are 10 low-cost ways to introduce more fun into your work. Check out the book list for more ideas.
1. Organize a Fun Committee made up of several team members from different parts of the business. Rotate members every quarter so everyone gets a chance to plan some team fun.
2. Encourage a regular team outing (monthly or weekly), such as a happy hour, bowling party or maybe a relay team for a charity 5K run.
3. Bring your crews back early once a month for a barbecue mixer. It will help them feel appreciated and give them a chance to hear company news, celebrate successes and socialize with office staff and managers.
4. Organize group exercise. Have your office staff join your crews in the morning for some stretching and flexing to fun music.
5. Set up a game space in the shop or yard. A ping pong table, basketball hoop, foosball table, Xbox or Wii can help the team blow off some steam at the end of a long day.
6. Sponsor a fun spring training day. Let the crew show off their skills (mower races anyone?) or host a regular team picnic that includes families.
7. Start each meeting or training session with joke-telling, or try “laughter yoga” to help break the ice.
8. Create a Wall of Fame to tell the story of your season – post photos of your teams, awards, thank you notes from clients, or newspaper clippings of your company’s successes.
9. Have regular pizza parties or ice cream socials to recognize important milestones. This can include company goals as well as personal goals of your team members.
10. Have a weekly riddle contest. The person who solves the riddle gets to choose a prize (valued at $5 or less).
No matter how you choose to express fun in your workplace, be sure it fits your team. Listen to them and help them balance the daily challenges of the job with fun, camaraderie and a common goal of making work a place you all enjoy.
Read more about it:
- “The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up” by Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher
- “Work Like Your Dog” by Matt Weinstein and Luke Barber
- “Copy This!” by Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko's
Hire Power is a monthly column designed to help you recruit, hire and retain the best talent for your company. We’ve got a rotating panel of columnists ready to give you practical, tactical advice on solving your labor problems. Email Chuck Bowen at email@example.com with topic ideas.