We spend the majority of our lives at work (or interacting with our work colleagues if we’re remote). So, it’s natural to want to work in an environment that is nurturing, inspiring and motivating. With the world of work changing rapidly over the past 5 years, and many businesses operating remote or hybrid models, having fun at work has become a want just as much as it has become a need. But, does a working environment always have to be fun? Does it always have to be a world of bean bags and beer fridges?
Harvard Business Review produced an interesting article on this exact topic, unpacking why it is important to work in a fun environment:
“Though fun at work is sometimes thought to be a distraction, research suggests that it has a positive impact on engagement, creativity, and purpose — increasing employee retention and reducing turnover. When we find tasks enjoyable, we’re more eager to dig in and complete them. When we make time for joy and laughter, we become resilient.”
However, there are arguments suggesting that fun in the workplace can actually become toxic, as it falls into the realm of “forced fun” which doesn’t mesh well with specific work environments as well as its employees.
"One thing we absolutely need to cancel is forced fun at work," says Victoria Christie in a viral Instagram post. "There's nothing worse than your workplace mandating you to bond with Greg, the mansplainer from accounts, over [arcade games]. No amount of pizza slices is going to make up for that.” - refinery29
And, we (partly) agree with this sentiment. There’s nothing worse than scheduled fun that is diarised with a strict time limit. Forcing relationships doesn’t build them - it instead pushes people further apart. Your working relationships should be formed as organically as possible, enabling you to create your own groups and friendships and make your own fun.
However, with many organisations operating on remote or hybrid models, it’s natural to want to create a fun environment on those days when people are in the office!
So, how can businesses combat what seems to be a catch-22?
Remember that your organisation has its own set of needs - don’t follow trends
It’s great to get inspiration from what other organisations (or even your competitors) are doing for employee engagement, but it shouldn’t be your blueprint. Even if your organisations on the outside look similar, you shouldn’t assume that what works for your competitor, will work for you.
Look at the infrastructure of your organisation as well as the culture right now and assess what will make your environment better. Additionally, don’t underestimate actually asking your employees what they want to see and what will make their day-to-day more engaging and fun.
Encouraging fun works, forcing fun doesn’t
Although some people may love forced fun (and if that works for you, more power to you!) the vast majority don’t. Instead, encourage fun at work - such as regular socials and events, but take the pressure off people to constantly go. It’s important to note that for some employees, fun isn’t important to them and they may not want to socialise. Don’t isolate people who prefer this - it’s just how they operate and shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on you. Instead, having diversity in your business will create a healthier environment in the long term.
Lead by example
If you want people to have more fun at work - ensure that your leaders are encouraging this behaviour from the get-go. Especially if you’re a fast-growth company or team, your new employees/team members are going to follow the precedent that you and your leaders set.