Get Serious About Having Fun!

Have you recently spent an hour or two at a boring cocktail party, a bad movie or (gasp!) the 15th version of your kid’s Nutcracker ballet performance? If so, I bet you spent some time thinking about all the other fun places you’d rather be. Was work one of them?

If you’re an executive, you’re going to spend about 96,000 hours at the office over your career, with a month off per year for vacations, etc., a retirement age of 65 and a modest 50 hours per week. Would you rather spend those hours feeling as though you were at that boring cocktail party or ____________? (Fill in the blank with the most fun activity that you can think of. Legal, of course.)

I had breakfast this morning with two fellows who enjoy business as much as I do. We all left with more energy and scheduled another meeting. If you head for the office (or factory or airport) without that feeling at least half of your days, you’re squandering your life. Get a different one!

My son-in-law is a psychotherapist and could tell you why some folks will always be miserable. But for most of us, it’s in part due to what we’re doing and with whom we’re doing it. Those are both manageable variables. If you’re close to 45,000 hours of work and have management talent, you’re probably leading a group of people and have the ability to influence their activity and with whom they do it. That’s a cool and awesome responsibility! It not only affects their quality of life but also hugely impacts your income statement!

If you can figure out how to have fun outside of work hours (and if you can’t, I’ll introduce you to my son-in-law), you can also determine how to have fun at work! Although it helps to be at the top of the heap (e.g., CEO or owner), it’s not required.

I’ve worked in, led or consulted with many companies and had fun in most situations. The ones where I didn’t, I left. My strong advice is to spend time thinking about having fun at work. I mean literally put an hour on your calendar to reflect on how you can leave work most days with a smile and get up in the morning with another. Then think about how you can put a smile on your co-workers’ faces.

They might be big things, or they might be a bunch of little things, but commit to having fun. Give it a score once a quarter, and if you’re not at least a 7 out of 10, change something.

Stuck on how to start? Here are some things:

  • Give out awards, maybe even silly ones!
  • If you’re in a leadership role, make fun of yourself in public. People love it. My brother is an executive in a bank (boring, right?), and his executive team had a race with Big Wheels at a recent company event. Sounds like fun!
  • Consider having a beer bust of some sort. I realize that alcohol can cause problems, but many fun companies do this. As humorist Dave Barry said, “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” So … bring pizza to your beer bust.
  • Frequently give out deserved compliments. Do it publicly.
  • Remember that people love to contribute. I haven’t yet met anyone who says, “I want to go to work today and be a screw-up.” Give them the autonomy and responsibility to actually contribute.
  • Hire people with a sense of humor. I bet that last dull cocktail party saw you stuck in the corner with a humorless bore.
  • Create opportunities for people to interact more frequently. Could be lunches, could be the way you design your office. People who engage more often have more fun and are more productive. (I’m sure there’s a study on this, but I know it’s true so I don’t need one.)
  • A bear walks into a bar and says, “I’ll have a … (long pause) … beer.” The bartender says, “Why the big paws?” My wife’s favorite joke. I just had to work it into this topic somehow.
  • Create meaning at work. Whether you’re digging ditches or writing code, it’s important work to someone. As a leader, it’s up to you to create meaning for your team.

On a scale of 1 – 10, how much fun did you have at work yesterday? If it’s 6 or less, do you need to change something?

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  • Lisa Hamaker

    1:29 pm July 25, 2017

    So timely and well said Todd. Just this morning I was grumpy about work and realized that while I like working with folks from around the globe, it;s frustrating that I have not met most of them in person, or (more important) worked with my close teammates in person very much. That interaction in person is important. A quarterly meeting would be useful on so many levels.

    • Todd Ordal

      2:49 pm July 25, 2017

      Thanks, Lisa. I used to have a team scattered all over the US and while technology is wonderful, I always built in a lot of face to face meetings. Sounds old-school, but I still think it is far preferable!