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Leaders: Get Serious about Fun!

Seriously: are you having any fun at work? Are you creating an enjoyable business environment? Do you encourage use of healthy humor? Can you laugh at your mistakes?

If not, you may be wasting the time and money that you invest in talents development, employees engagement programs and innovation-boosting activities.

When people are too serious, the result is often stress, anxiety, self-consciousness, paralysis and failure.

Fun on the other side unleashes initiative, creativity, open communication and engagement, increasing chances of success.

Let's look at some key benefits of bringing FUN to the workplace:

  • Fun facilitates connections
    • A fun environment is the foundation of successful relationships, it encourages open-heart communication and opens the mind to new ideas
    • Fun stimulates teamwork
  • Fun helps to build trust
    • Working in a fun and enjoyable workplace humanizes people, favors honest sharing and helps to create bonds of trust
    • Fun at work encourages people to help colleagues and encourages loyalty
  • Fun enhances productivity
    • By removing the stress and anxiety usually created by overly serious environments, fun unleashes energy in more productive directions
    • According to the WHO, work-related stress costs American companies over 300 billion per year in absenteeism and low productivity
  • Fun pairs with engagement
    • Getting up to go to work is greatly facilitated by a fun and enjoyable workplace
    • Investing energy to meet challenging deadlines can become part of a shared pride, a strong driver to focus, work hard and then celebrate success
  • Fun increases external focus and confidence, helping to smoothen conflicts and to weather periods of changes
    • A too serious environment creates stress and anxiety, pushing people towards inner focus and self-consciousness. Fun brings a breath of fresh air, gives permission to shift the focus outside, to colleagues and customers, creating greater opportunities to listen, learn and respond, which in turns feeds our self-confidence.
    • When we feel safe and confident, it is much easier to face difficult negotiations and disagreements with an open mind, maximizing chances of successful resolution
    • Self-confidence makes us more resilient, thus making it easier to deal with ambiguities, frequent changes and new challenges.

Importantly, just to avoid misunderstandings, this is what FUN is NOT:

  • Cracking jokes at all occasions, especially inappropriate and offensive jokes – Fun is ethical, healthy and respectful
  • Sarcastic comments about others or even ourselves (no, it is not funny to deliver bitterness with a smile)
  • Fake it (Fun is genuine and authentic)
  • Expecting that everybody has fun in the same way (watch out for some team building experiences that might exclude more than unite!)
  • Taking yourself seriously, but making fun of others (a frequent misunderstanding)
  • Equating “Fun” with “anything goes” and “no need for commitment, accountability and deadlines” (Fun is serious business after all!)

Many successful examples prove the invaluable benefits of fun in the workplace. In addition to the broadly celebrated cases of Google, Nike and Lego, there are many others maybe less well known examples: Northwest Airlines (one of the Top Ten Most Admired Companies in last ten years Fortune surveys) hires for fun and wins Humor Awards; NASA considers humor and bringing fun as key traits when hiring astronauts; successful advertising agency PUSH lists Fun among their core values and Danone stresses fun in their young talent development programs; and this is just to quote some.

So why are still so many companies not focusing on FUN?

At the risk of oversimplification, my answer is: fear and poor leadership.

Managing FUN in its best form requires extremely clear expectations, dedication to open, honest and specific feedback, and accepting our own vulnerability. Too many leaders are ill prepared to handle the demanding task of Managing FUN!

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