Make Work More Fun

Dec 30, 1996

Believe it or not, having fun helps your pocketbook. If your people are having fun, they’ll work harder, longer, and put out better quality work. And that will make you more money. I’m convinced that A/E/P and environmental firms can do a number of things to make work more fun. Too often I go into offices that feel more like a morgue than anything else. Just walking in the door saps 20% of your energy. And it’s especially important to think about how to make work more fun if you employ younger people who only recently joined the “real world,” or your firm’s performance hasn’t been great lately and people have made sacrifices, or the workload has been intense and everyone is killing themselves to keep up. Here are some ideas on how to make work more fun: Fun starts at the top. The CEO, managing principal, managing partner, president, chairperson, or whoever is at the top needs to have a personality. They can’t be afraid to let their hair down a bit, to joke around, or to be a normal person. But some people running firms in our business are afraid to have fun. They have a warped idea that somehow it’s “unprofessional” to have fun, that you have to be stiff and stodgy. But my definition of “unprofessional” is different from theirs. I think it’s unprofessional to be so insecure that you have to maintain a false image of who and what you are. Buy some “toys.” “Toys” are things such as the antique reproduction 1955 Schwinn tanker bike with wide whitewalls that I keep parked outside my door and that I ride inside our office. You may want to have a Nintendo game, pinball machine, or pool table. Land planning/landscape architectural giant EDSA (Fort Lauderdale, FL) has a swimming pool at their headquarters office. There are plenty of other ideas. Get some sports activities going. Nothing wrong with a company sponsored ice hockey team, basketball team, golf league, or coed softball team. How about a basketball hoop in the parking lot? Or get a Nerf football and toss it around. Organize day trips and firm-wide outings. Ever consider an optional Las Vegas trip? Or a group tour of the Empire State Building or Oak Park, Illinois, where Unity Temple and a number of other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are located? Or how about a day trip to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge? Or how about taking the whole firm to a matinee baseball game? These short trips for entertainment or education can be great fun and do a lot to build esprit de corps. Have some parties. The regular office Christmas party and summer picnic are OK, but maybe you need to have a “Founders’ Day” celebration to commemorate the founding of your firm, or a day to celebrate the departure of the worst employee the company ever had who left back in 1961. Use your P.A. system. One time I got on the P.A. after my wife had me paged for the third time in about an hour by our receptionist, who made sure that everyone in the firm knew my wife was the caller. I said: “Attention everyone. That was my wife on the phone.” It got a few laughs, although the receptionist thought I was giving her a hard time. Give gag awards. There’s no rule this has to wait until the company Christmas party. You can give gag awards at any office get together or meeting. I once gave a fellow who worked here— a guy who was extremely clean-cut and young looking for his age— a bald wig and fake tattoos. Carter & Burgess in Fort Worth used to have an annual Rubber Chicken Award for the goofiest thing someone did that year. Making up official-looking certificates (you can buy these in catalogs, along with seals and ribbons to decorate them with) and putting them in a $2 frame is easy and cheap, and your options for what you put on them are unlimited. Making your workplace more fun will more than pay for itself. But a few words of caution are in order. You have to be careful you don’t push the limits of good taste. In this era of sexual harassment, it’s probably a bad idea to hire a stripper for the boss’s birthday party. Ethnic or racial jokes are never appropriate. And please— don’t ever make fun of someone who can’t take it. Originally published 12/30/1996

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