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When was the last time you had fun at work?
The last time you felt the giddiness of being a kid?
The last time you laughed until you cried?
The last time you were able to use your creativity in a way that engaged and energized you?
For much of history, our jobs have been a mechanism to pay the bills and put food on the table; a place to act “professional.” I’m going to continue to cite the following statistic because it jars me every time I see it, but American employee engagement has been fluctuating between 26%-33% from 2000 until 2016 (Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report). With so few people engaged in work – something that takes up, on average, 70% of our waking hours, maybe it’s time to reexamine what it means to “act professional.” For most, “acting professional” involves being earnest, acting solemn, playing it safe, and leaving your personality at home. For some, this is the ideal work experience, but in reality, behaving in this way acts against our inherent human desires to explore, take risks, and be authentic. What if we could combine this professionalism with playfulness?
Vaunted American psychologist and philosopher John Dewey once said, “To be playful and serious at the same time is possible and it defines the ideal mental condition.”
When work and play are combined in the proper proportions, not only does it tap into our innate desire to have fun, but it also gives our work purpose and engages our imaginations. Finding new ways to incorporate play into our professions is the future of work, and here are 4 reasons why:
It combats stress
Workplace stress releases the chemical cortisol into our bloodstreams, which has averse effects on our health including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, according to a series of studies by author and business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer, stressful work environments may be responsible for 120,000 excess deaths a year, making workplaces more likely to kill us than diabetes, the flu, Alzheimer’s, and kidney disease. Yay, work!
But I’m here to deliver good news: Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University found that laughter triggers gamma waves, the same brain waves associated with meditation. Laughing also releases dopamine into our bloodstreams, and if we laugh together as a group, oxytocin and serotonin are both released into the bloodstream as well. Long story short, these act as natural stress reducers and lighten the mood at work, contributing to fewer sick days and improved morale. Who knows? Creating a culture that values laughter at work may even save lives.
It makes you stand out to customers
Though it may seem counterintuitive to some, communicating a fun workplace image can actually attract new customers. We live in a world where competition for consumer attention is at an all-time high. With so many new avenues for advertising like social media, it’s important for businesses to set themselves apart.
Would you rather do business with a company who is incredibly efficient but is clearly only in business for your business, or a company where team members have authentic smiles on their faces and they want to help you, the individual, have the best experience possible? We don’t do business with other businesses, we do business with other human beings, so selling is about relationship building and establishing trust. Humor researcher Dr. Paul McGhee found that when a salesperson uses more humor, the buyer is willing to pay a higher price because humor helps to break down initial objections the buyers may have had. Being human and leaning into our playfulness can actually make us more money than when our focus is on making more money! This makes work more meaningful, which in turn…
It attracts better hires
Not only are companies competing for the attention of new customers, they’re also competing to hire the best-of-the-best people. Sure, you can hire anyone to check off the bullet points on their job description, but companies want the best people, and the best people obviously want to work for the best companies. What sets companies apart? It isn’t money anymore, as more and more people list creative freedom, meaning, passion, and fun as guidelines for finding a new job. You want people to seek you out for a job rather than to seek them out. When you have people knocking down your door because they want to work for you, it’s because they know that when they sit down on their first day, they can be themselves and work toward a cause that they believe in by engaging their creative impulses. In this case, when you look out at the field of potential new hires, you can afford to be picky and be a little more confident that the cream of the crop want to work for you because it will engage them more, not because the money is attractive. When it becomes about the money, your best people can just as easily move elsewhere because there is little emotional investment. When you embrace a fun culture, it makes it harder for these people to be motivated by financial gain.
It weeds out toxic people
I once had a job with a manager who would reprimand employees for laughing at work, so it was no surprise when our staff meetings would end with people walking out, never to return. From management down to the bottom of the totem pole, work becomes excruciating when we have to work alongside with people who suck the sunlight out of the room. But if you promote a culture with a focus on fun, creativity, and supporting the people around you, it organically inspires these happiness vampires to change their tune, or realize they’re not a fit, and they move on. When the focus of work is on having fun accomplishing a mission as a team, it has a cascading effect of improved communication, more helpful feedback, going to bat for one another, and spreading more ideas than complaints. That’s a workplace I want to go to every day.
Though we don’t always envision work and play coexisting, by looking at the evidence at companies like Milliken Innovation, Geico, and ZogSports, it is becoming more clear that to engage both ends of the spectrum leads to, not only results, but a more fulfilling work experience.
So get out there and play hard while working hard without being hard.
The choice is easy!

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” - Alan Watts

What's one way you can infuse fun into a rote, routine task?

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