Volume 11, Number 2
Fun with Work
Yerkes is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc.
She is co-author of 301 Ways To Have Fun At Work (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1997)
and author of Fun Works:
Creating Places Where People Love to Work (Berrett-Koehler,
San Francisco, 2001).
If work and fun
are best when integrated, how did we get to the current state
where the common perception is that fun is an add-on? That the
only time we are allowed to have fun is after work is over? That
the only way we can have fun is to earn it? Simply put, our
attitude toward work is not static, it changes from generation to
generation. We either adopt the attitudes our parents have, or we
assimilate the attitude currently held by the strongest influence
— our peer group. Over the centuries, work attitudes have
changed from Aristotle’s ‘work is for slaves’ to Calvin’s
‘work is a commandment;’ from ‘work is a virtue’ to
‘work is who I am.’
For many of us,
what we do is who we are. It is how we define ourselves.
Unfortunately, that often means that work is life without fun,
without friends, without family. But that doesn’t mean we are
doomed to be like that for the rest of our working days. It is
possible for any individual, or group (teams, departments,
companies) to change; to intentionally adopt individual elements
into their current prevailing attitude. Specifically, it is
possible to reintegrate fun into our work. I say reintegrate
because for long periods of time fun and work co-existed.
agricultural age, for example, work songs helped turn dreary tasks
and repetitive actions into activities that, if not fun, at least
contained an element of anticipation and comfort. Barn raisings
were changed from a task impossible for one or two people into a
picnic-style community event during which barns seemed to be born
full-grown in a single day. Vestiges of this behavior can be seen
today when groups of people get together on a Saturday to clean up
a ball diamond, paint a senior citizen’s house, or build a
It is my premise
that fun and work naturally go together. That fun works and that
work pays off better when it is fun. For us to go forward, then,
we must unlearn 150 years of taboos about work and fun.
of fun and work isn’t about what
you do, it’s about who
you’re being when you’re doing your work. Fun isn’t the
prize — it’s the work. The enjoyment that comes with receiving
a wrapped gift, isn’t simply the gift, itself.
It’s the process of opening the package and the surprise
that appears. Without
the process, the gift’s value is diminished.
Enjoyment is a
result of the integration of fun and work. When fun is integrated
with work instead of segmented from work, the resulting fusion
creates energy; it cements relationships between co-workers and
between workers and the company. When fun is integrated into work,
it fosters creativity and results in improved performance.
In my efforts to
understand the importance of the fun-work fusion, I have
formulated eleven principles for integrating fun and work.
Principles, which if applied to your work, to your work
relationships, and to your company or business will unleash
creativity, foster good morale, and promote individual
Permission to Perform. Allow individuals to bring the best of
their whole selves to work each day.
Your Bias. Remove self-imposed obstacles to the release of
your full being.
the Spontaneous. Fun doesn’t necessarily happen on schedule;
it grows in a culture that fosters its existence.
Process. You can’t muscle energy. A laugh that is forced is
not a true laugh.
Diversity of Fun Styles.
We don’t all do it the same way. There is no right or
wrong way to engage in serious fun.
Boundaries. Don’t start making rules to limit the process.
Be true to your best self at all times. Be conscientious.
Embrace the whole person; give your self permission.
People and Get Out of the Way.
If you trust your employees with your organization’s most
valuable assets, why not trust them to use their judgment on
bringing fun to their work?
Expansive Thinking and Risk Taking. To be successful at risk
taking, we must overcome our fear of failure.
There is nothing more fun than the celebration of success.
When fun and work
are integrated, companies are able to attract and retain peak
performers, and individuals are able to bring their full selves to
It is abundantly
clear that fun works. And it works well.