Real Leaders

5 Ways to Keep ‘Work’ Becoming a Four-Letter Word

African man doing a "Talk to the hand!" pose

What does it take to allow employees to have more fun in their work—and keep work from being a four-letter word? Not that much, it turns out.

Happy employees make for more productive employees. The University of Warwick, a U.K. public research facility, conducted a study of more than 700 participants and concluded that increased happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity. According to research by Ben Waber, companies can increase productivity by as much as 25% simply by making small changes at work that increase employees’ sense of fun and satisfaction, such as overlapping lunch breaks and better placement of well-stocked coffee stations.

So, it’s worth the time it takes to spread a little joy at work, whether your workplace consists of one other person, a full-fledged team, or tens of thousands of employees spread around the globe. Here are some simple but fun things others have done to make their workplaces a little more fun. Use this as a “starter set” for creating your own toolbox of fun things to try with those you work with!

1. Email some inspiration.

When colleagues are under tight deadlines or high-pressure projects, Jill Boone, assistant VP of European talent for Enterprise Holdings of Surrey, United Kingdom, emails inspirational quotes on Monday mornings—and sometimes daily. “I know they’re getting lots of other emails with tasks to do, so at least one of them is just to offer inspiration and motivation,” says Boone.

2. Stick it.

“There’s nothing quite like a sticky note,” says author Kelly Epperson. She uses the notes in two ways. One, she writes quotes, silly sayings, and inside jokes and posts them throughout her office. Sometimes, she puts them on computer screens. Two, she walks around her office with a note on her forehead that says, “I’m having a bad day!” “Just having it on immediately improves everyone’s mood. Try it!” says Epperson.

Stickers are another variation on this theme. “The most successful mood-enhancing technique I had as a manager of graphic artists,” says Rebecca Taft of PacBell, “was to use stickers when I approved something they had put together.” Forgoing the usual “Great job!” stickers used in grade schools, Taft gave seasonal stickers instead. These included little snowmen, Santas, or wreaths at Christmas; flags and fireworks for Independence Day; black cats or jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween; and so on.

“It was corny, but people really enjoyed them. Many peeled them off and kept them on their monitors. I kept a large supply on hand, so people didn’t always receive the same ones,” adds Taft.

3. Create a laugh-a-day challenge.

Employees tried to make each other laugh at Bank of America’s offices in San Francisco during the bank’s Laugh-a-Day Challenge, which they held for one month. Each employee tried to make coworkers laugh with cartoons and jokes. Winners received T-shirts and books that showcased their creations.

4. Pop it!

Donna Monroe, assistant to the chief at the Pocatello Police Department in Pocatello, Idaho, is also the force’s popcorn chef. Monroe brings a popcorn maker to work on officially named “popcorn days.” She brings along paper theater bags, flavoring salts, and butter, which she melts in the microwave as the corn pops. “Everyone smells it, and they all start gathering! Lots of smiles and thank-yous,” says Monroe.

Some workers contribute to buying the butter, oil, and popcorn. “Some just lay a dollar or change on the table to donate toward what they eat. People stand around and chat while waiting for the next batch to be popped, buttered, and bagged. It goes fast, it’s easy, and it’s fun,” she added. On other days, Monroe brings in ice cream, cones, cups, and spoons.

5. Take a five-minute music break.

Workers at California-based SecureAuth Corporation, a global identity security firm, take daily five-minute music breaks on Zoom. They receive recurring calendar requests and reminders to join the fun. Employees sign up to share a song; some have their children and families perform, while others play a meaningful song on Spotify.

Nichole Devolites, a senior manager of customer experience in Buenos Aires, went one step further and set up a Slack music channel for his team. “We had one employee perform a song he wrote with an acoustic guitar, another employee’s family sang with one of the daughters playing the ukulele, and another employee’s 13-year-old daughter played Chopin on the piano,” says Devolites.

Now ask yourself:

What can you personally do to make more fun happen at work?

What can your team immediately do to have more fun together?

Pull out a pen and paper and brainstorm.

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