#547  Innovative Leader  Volume 11, Number 2          February 2002

Integrating Fun with Work
by Leslie Yerkes

Ms. Yerkes is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc.  www.changeisfun.com.  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). 

You and I spend more time at work than at any other single activity. Yet, often our work experience is not fun because we suffer the lack of integration of fun and work. When fun and work are successfully integrated, case studies show that both the process and the resultant product are improved.


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.

During the 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 playground.

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.

The integration 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 effectiveness.

·         Give Permission to Perform. Allow individuals to bring the best of their whole selves to work each day.

·         Challenge Your Bias. Remove self-imposed obstacles to the release of your full being.

·         Capitalize on the Spontaneous. Fun doesn’t necessarily happen on schedule; it grows in a culture that fosters its existence.

·         Trust the Process. You can’t muscle energy. A laugh that is forced is not a true laugh.

·         Value a 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.

·         Expand the Boundaries. Don’t start making rules to limit the process.

·         Be Authentic. Be true to your best self at all times. Be conscientious.

·         Be Choiceful. Embrace the whole person; give your self permission.

·         Hire Good 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?

·         Embrace Expansive Thinking and Risk Taking. To be successful at risk taking, we must overcome our fear of failure.

·         Celebrate. 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 their jobs.

It is abundantly clear that fun works. And it works well.

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