They Who Laugh, Last!
November, 1999
Paul E. McGhee, PhD

The Importance of Making Work Fun: II

"This is what it's all about. If you can't have fun at it, there's no sense hanging around." Joe Montana

The growing trend toward making work fun is evident in an editorial written by John Brandt in Industry Week magazine April 1, 1996. He expressed regret that in his own on-the-job training (by the Corporate Management Development School), he was advised to avoid humor and fun on the job. Years of work experience, however, had shown him just how wrong this advice had been. He used his April 1st editorial to invite all employees to use April Fools' Day as a starting point to begin making work fun.

When people start to have more fun on their jobs, they become energized and more productive. And yet, many organizations are afraid to try putting humor and fun to work, because they fear that employees will take it as a message that it’s OK to goof off. The New York Times reported in 1989 that the intentional waste of time on the job costs American companies $170 billion a year.1 I know of no company, however, that has found that introducing a lighter attitude on the job led to goofing off by employees. In fact, the opposite is generally reported. Making work fun helps employees sustain peak performance and consistently provide quality, because it provides an outlet for tension and stress and makes work more enjoyable. Employees learn that they can lighten up on the job, and continue to be competent and professional. The key is taking your work seriously, while taking yourself lightly in doing that work.

Dick Kussman, Vice President of one of AT&T’s most successful sales departments, encouraged his staff (mainly telephone sales and service people) to find ways to make work fun. He has held team chili cook-offs and monthly unusual dress-up days, and sent fun video-tape messages to employees spread across the country. Kussman says, "I have yet to find anything worth accomplishing that you just can’t have a good time doing."2

Royce Haines, president of Royce Medical, a company that makes orthopedic products, installed foosball and ping-pong tables for employees to use during breaks, and often holds trivia and team-sales contests to keep the spirit of fun alive. He finds that "the better managers are at providing this kind of [fun-oriented] leadership, the better results they get."3

Some companies also establish a fun work environment as a means of recruiting and retaining employees. This is especially difficult in the ultra competitive Silicon Valley. Remedy Corporation, a California company which produces computer products, has been extremely successful on both counts by maintaining a fun environment in which employees can enjoy their work. For example, it had managers wash the cars of all company employees to show appreciation for their efforts. Employees are hesitant to accept new jobs because they feel they simply wouldn’t enjoy a job elsewhere as much4.

It is no surprise, then, that in Fortune magazine’s list of "The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America," the top three (and many others) all place a major emphasis on finding ways to help employees make work fun.5 These selections were made on the basis of such dimensions as "trust in management, pride in work/company, and camaraderie." The #1 company on the list, Southwest Airlines, is the most successful (financially) airline in the country, and is also best known for it’s commitment to making work fun.

Thomas Edison knew the value of making work fun. Toward the end of his life, he said, "I never did a day’s work in my life--it was all fun." While you may not be as creative and productive as Edison (he held over 1,000 patents), doing things to make your work fun will certainly help boost your creativity and effectiveness on the job.


1. New York Times, May 14, 1989. Business section, p. 2.

2. Abramis, D.J. Fun at work. Personnel Administrator, November, 1989, 60-63.

3. Lancaster, H. Your career may be a laugh track away from the fast track ("Managing Your Career" column). Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1996.

4. Flynn, G. Remedy cures work doldrums. Workforce, February, 1998.

5. Levering, R. & Moskowitz, M. The 100 best companies to work for in America. Fortune, Jan. 12, 1998, pp. 84-96.

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