When I hear the question ‘should employees have fun at work?’, I’m often reminded of Dilbert Cartoons like this one, where employee happiness is seen as little more than an obstacle to efficiency or productivity.
Sure, cartoon strips shouldn’t be taken literally. But more often than not, they are inspired by reality.
And there’s a largely unspoken belief amongst many employers, that having fun at work is something that should be stopped, in case it impacts how many minutes an employee can spend physically producing work.
Traditional working patterns don’t always work
Let’s look at a ‘typical’ office environment for a moment. I say ‘typical’, because I’m noticing that fewer workplaces operate like this these days. But traditionally, a typical working day in the office might be split into an 8-hour shift, punctuated by a 30-minute lunch break, and two shorter 15-minute breaks.
Now, I’m not saying that this is the wrong way to organise a working day. And actually, some roles might even benefit from such a rigid structure. But here’s the thing: it’s not always going to be the most productive working pattern. Not for everybody. And there are plenty of theories on alternative working patterns that some claim to be more productive. For example:
- HBR says that employers should consider the Circadian Rhythm when setting schedules
- Fortune advises that you should work in 90-minute cycles, making sure you take a break after each cycle
- The website Magic Work Cycle advocates a 30-minutes work, 30-minutes play approach
I’m not saying any of these are the right approach. What I’m getting at, is that what might seem to obviously be the most productive strategy, isn’t always the case. For example, some of the above techniques include far less ‘working’ time than the traditional office environment. But many people report greater employee output when using them.
How this relates to employees having fun at work
At first glance, having fun at work seems counterproductive. Unless you work as an entertainer or similar, your job description probably doesn’t include ‘having fun’. Therefore, if you’re having fun, you’re probably not working. Right?
But just like with mixing up your working schedules, what looks less productive on the surface, sometimes actually proves itself to be the opposite.
What’s important to remember, is that we spend around 33 percent of our life at work. Fun is an important part of life, and work makes up around half of our waking life. If your employees are having the fun sucked out of them at work, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t give you their best.
Three reasons having fun at work could be good for your business
There is some pretty compelling evidence suggesting that letting employees have fun at work is a good thing. For example:
- Having fun improves communication. Research sponsored by Alfresco concludes that 65 percent of knowledge workers collaborate multiple times a day. Fun improves communication, and therefore encouraging fun could be a great way to improve the quality of that collaboration.
- Having fun helps us learn better. In this video interview with business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, we learn that people learn better when they are having fun. So if continuous improvement and development is important to you and your brand, then so should encouraging fun at work.
- Having fun makes employees more productive. According to research published by CIPHR, productivity is directly linked to happiness. And when employees are having fun, they tend to be happier.
So if you’re still of the mind set that employees should be limited to only the duties you hire them for, then maybe check out some of the above links.
How to help employees have fun at work
There are plenty of ways to encourage a little more fun in the workplace. You don’t have to go as far as writing fun into your employee handbook, but you can create an environment where fun is celebrated, not sniffed at.
Creating office games and leagues can be a good place to start, but you don’t even need to be quite so formal or structured. Simply providing the facilities for having fun – such as a well-equipped recreation room, with with table tennis tables or similar – can help you to get the ball rolling, if you’ll pardon the pun. That is, of course, if you don’t make employees feel guilty for actually using them!
If you can’t create a more fun environment – for example, because you lack the space – then make sure you’re taking your team(s) out and spending quality time together, even if it’s just for a relaxed team lunch at a local café.
Why not take some ideas from our company handbook?
Before we first launched the People® HR system, we published our employee handbook. This was our pledge to making sure our employees enjoyed their work, and were well looked after.
A large part of our employee handbook focuses on the importance of having fun.