Is “fun” a dirty word at work?

dogs - fun at work

I was recently invited to write a guest blog for Great Charity Speakers. I’d hate for you to miss out on all the fun, so here’s a shortened version for you to enjoy. The full version is here.

So, politics has gone mad. Injustices are multiplying. Poverty is on the rise and the funds to fight it are tighter than ever. And to cap it all, the reputation of the charity sector has taken some big knocks recently with a string of scandals. All this, and Boris too…

So, how should the serious, responsible charity respond to the challenge?

How about having a bit more fun? Yes, fun. And no, I’m not being flippant.

There’s a growing body of evidence that fun not only makes for happier, healthier, more productive employees but, and this is crucial, fun helps charities fulfill their mission even more effectively.

That’s why some of the most effective charities in their field (more about these in the long version) have embraced fun as a core organisational value – alongside more familiar ones such as respect, equality and accountability.

So why does fun work?

Fun at work has a whole host of benefits which come together in a beautiful virtuous circle. Here are some:

  • Fun allows staff to have a laugh and let off steam. This is important for everyone, but even more so when the issues they may be working with are deeply upsetting or difficult. Lifting staff spirits acts as a refresher, helping them tackle those challenges with renewed vigour and optimism.
  • When people are having fun, they experience less stress and tend to be happier with a greater sense of wellbeing. Better for them, better for the outfit as a whole.
  • Happier people are more productive people, more engaged with work. If work drains the life out of you, you’re not going to be doing a great job, are you?
  • Fun builds trust and encourages positive relationships between colleagues, vital for the successful collaboration and problem solving the sector needs.
  • Creativity and innovative thinking thrive in an atmosphere of play and fun, where people are allowed to experiment without feeling constrained by institutional right and wrong answers.
  • Having fun helps people to learn more effectively.

What’s not to like?

Fun for all?

Two of my coaching clients, the Back Up Trust and Forum for the Future, have ‘fun’ and ‘playful’ respectively, as core values. This isn’t right for all charities, I know. Here are a few guidelines for how to bring in a greater sense of fun to your workplace, without it all being a big cringe.

Creating a culture where fun is acceptable, has to come from the top. Staff will find their own fun, but only if there is trust that they won’t be judged or made to feel silly or bad. A leader who can relax and enjoy some fun – when appropriate – from time to time can do wonders in putting staff at ease.

Lowering the barriers to fun, such as tackling poor working conditions and staff conflict, is also key. As Louise Wright, CEO of Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis told me,

“Fun comes out when people are able to get on, when they’re not grappling with silly issues such as office politics, and there is a fair and equitable workplace which allows them to be empowered and facilitated. It’s my job to make sure that happens.”

Planned fun (sports day, bake-offs, ‘bring your dog to work day’) is good. Organic fun that bubbles up from happy, supported staff is even better. Warm chats with colleagues, spontaneous lunches out and birthday celebrations all add up to a ‘fun-positive’ culture.

Fun doesn’t want to feel overly scheduled or formal. And, please, don’t make anything obligatory. That really gives fun at work a bad name.

Gender, cultural and age-related differences mean that what constitutes fun can vary hugely. Make sure fun is inclusive.

Bring fun into your learning. No boring blah, blah-ing in front of a PowerPoint! When I was invited to run management training at Aspire Charity recently, I didn’t go in banging a drum shouting ‘let’s have fun!” but through the use of games, funny graphics, and a squeaky green frog, plus warm, honest conversation, we all had a very fun time.

So, despite the doom and gloom. Despite, or maybe, because of Boris, I shall carry on encouraging fun in the sector and celebrating all that’s playful and light-hearted. I may get some flak for it, but I truly believe that however tough our tasks, however difficult the issues we face, there is always time, and very good reason, to have fun.

Over to you

Want to add a little more fun into the mix at your charity? It can be good to start small. What will you do this week to bring that playful spirit into your workplace? Please do share your ideas in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!

Want to play?

If you’re sold on the importance of fun but you’re unsure where to start, email me at katie@be-the-change.org.uk or give me a call on 07958 501 427 to see how I can help.

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