Nope, workplace hazard prevention day isn’t for another few months. Actually the title doesn’t have much to do with this post…I just kinda wanted to use it
A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Holland at Associations Inc. blogged on a recent King of the Hill episode lampooning the workplace entertainment provided by Cold Stone Creamery. If you’ve never been to a Cold Stone, it’s a “customize your own ice cream” shop where the work staff break out into song when they receive a tip (or any other time if they feel like it). All of which I have to say is…great. Why not? I know when I go to my local Dairy Queen, I rarely get a “thanks” let alone a verse or two from Oklahoma.
But the real question that Kevin raises is about what constitutes fun in our work. Not so long ago during the dotcom boom days, fun was the active ingredient that separated the young turks from the old fogies. New, exuberant companies brought in foosball tables, pinball machines, cappuccino bars, and other things that made it a fun place to be. Now it seems that with the bust of those heady days, the pendulum is swinging back to a strict focus on the bottom line and getting results. It’s as if an indictment has been passed that playing air hockey at 3pm rather than bad business decisions contributed to the demise of these companies.
Let’s take another look at fun and its interaction with the concept of play. I wager one of the central issues here is that fun is viewed as frivolous and childish and lead to a general lack of seriousness in a world that takes itself a bit too seriously. And perhaps there is a general fear that if our staff is playing, they’re definitely not working.
As Kevin mentions, fun is a relative term so let me offer an individual perspective and then bring play into the mix. I believe fun is an extraneous concept, and yet, not one to be dismissed entirely. Fun is creating an environment where staff can be celebrated as people, not mere workers. Bring on the birthday cakes, allow for laughter over a lunchtime game of parcheesi, have a beer or coffee afterhours. Each of us brings various levels of intrigue and complexity to the workplace…to assume that we are only here to just do a job and go home may not fully express that depth of character. After all, we are social beings who are eager to relate with others.
If we view fun as a cultural activity residing outside of the standard operations of work, I submit that play is an integrative activity. Play is a rich toolset that allows individuals and groups to bring out their best creative efforts, effectively pool their talents, and focus their energy on challenges. It’s a way of looking at the same old things differently. It’s a powerful method of altering perceptions and unteathering ourselves from conventional thinking. And, unfortunately, it’s a workplace characteristic that is sadly underutilized due to some of the stigmas mentioned earlier.
Final thoughts…Be judicious with fun and don’t overdo it or else you end up just Managing by Serving Cake (Nice, Kevin). Find a way to blend our oft-forgotten humanness into the daily work which can have its own set of rewards. But, be liberal with play and use it whenever possible. Find a way to integrate it into as many processes as you can. Business doesn’t have to be a somber activity. With a little fun and a lot of play, it might just liberate our best work.