The Death of Fun at Work

What is it with some managers?  Why do they hate fun?  Anytime they hear about a quick basketball game, game of cards, or anything that doesn’t contribute directly to the result the employees are hired for; they freak out.  Have they forgotten where they came from?  Have they lost perspective about how mundane work can get?

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “I don’t let my people waste time.”  What I say is, I believe some time spent messing around and having fun is a good use of time.  Of course, many professions do not fit in with this theory, a surgeon probably doesn’t have time to stop a play a quick game of hearts, but we all know of those work environments where it is possible.

The key to this is good leadership.  But more than just good leadership, we have to evaluate the reasons these managers see only a waste of time.  They are not concerned about morale; they are not concerned for their people’s lives; they seem only to be concerned with completing work.  But not just work getting done but being done perfectly.  These managers find it so easy to tear apart anything.  Have a problem employee take a few steps in a positive direction? Nope, they will remind you of the times they made mistakes.  Even when they do good, there are usually times when they have made mistakes and these managers will remember.

It becomes such a pain for other managers to fight against the “fun-less” managers that we do avoid the fight far more often than we would probably admit.  There is plenty of evidence to support the position that happy employees do better and more work.  And fun at work is one way to make employees happy.  Fun at work is not the priority.  High-quality performance, efficient processes, discipline, accountability are all much more important than fun at work.  But when these things are happening, when you have a good work environment, it’s time to throw the football or break out the jump rope and have fun.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a great way to change these managers.  Most of the time, they will continue to be a negative influence on the organization’s people until they either quit or retire.  They can be great operationally and still hurt the organization because they are poor leaders.  My tactic is to be relentless with progress.  I never stop my message and consistently come up with ways to try to push them in the direction of fun.  Little by little without them even realizing, they will change.  Small steps, which are barely even perceptible, will make a huge difference over time.  Yes, this is hard, but in the end, it is worth it to your people.

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