They Who Laugh, Last!
January, 2000
Paul E. McGhee, PhD

What Makes a Job Fun?

Your job is still better than asking, "You want fries with that?"

Half the people you work with are below average.

I've devoted several columns over the past year to the importance of finding a way to make your job fun. This is an absurd idea to a lot of people, as we have seen, since work seems incompatible with fun. Work is something most of us do so that we can have enough money to do something fun when we're done with the work. And yet there is every reason to believe that you'll be more effective at your job when at least parts of it are fun, and that you'll enjoy your job more if you find ways to make it fun.

If you're lucky, your company has already become convinced of the value of making work fun and is now doing things to build elements of fun into the job for all employees (see the October and November, 1998 issues of the Humor Newsletter). Chances are that your company has not been promoting a Yuck-a-Day on the job, so you'll have to take responsibility for building fun into the job yourself.

The Most obvious way to make your job fun, of course, is to learn to find some humor in the things that go on in your office every day. That is the whole purpose of these humor columns and of the keynotes and workshops I do for corporations. But recent research on how employees view fun on the job shows that there are many things in addition to having a laugh on the job that can make your work fun.

Tiffany McDowell found a difference between in what blue- and white-collar workers--as well as men and women--considered fun on the job.1 White-collar men said that fun came up in connection with their working relationships with others, while white-collar women found their job fun when they were doing something they were good at, or doing creative work. Blue-collar men also saw their job as fun when they enjoyed the job itself, and when they were able to use their own initiative to get things done. Blue-collar women saw the job as fun when they felt they were really accomplishing something with their work.

Everyone surveyed in this study agreed with the statement that their work needed to be more fun, but widespread individual differences were found in what they considered fun. This suggests that a "fun committee" should be formed to find effective ways to add fun to work. The committee should consist of representatives from a wide range of departments, and committee membership should rotate.

David Abramis surveyed 930 employees from a range of work settings and interviewed 341 of them.2 He found that employees were aware of when managers were making efforts to make work fun, and these efforts were generally successful. Those who believed that their company made specific efforts to make work fun did experience more fun on the job. He also found that "people who believe that fun has positive effects in their lives are more likely to try to make their jobs fun." And individuals who made conscious efforts to make their own work fun did have more fun on the job, regardless of the efforts made by their company.

"Fun people" were viewed by their colleagues as being intelligent, energetic, hardworking, outgoing, friendly, competent, not always serious, and able to laugh at themselves." It is precisely because of these qualities that so many companies now seek employees with a good sense of humor. Abramis noted that your own attitude toward your work and a determination to find ways to make it fun are crucial to enjoying your job.

In next month's column, we'll look further into what makes work fun. In the meantime, ask yourself what kinds of things you can do to add an element of fun to your own job.

  1. 2 Abramis, D. Building fun into your organization. Personnel Administrator, October, 1989 (b), 68-72.
  2. Abramis, D. All work and no play isn’t even good for work. Psychology Today, March, 1989 (c), 34-38.
  3. Abramis, D. Fun at Work. Paper presented at the Humor Project Conference, Saratoga Springs, New York, April, 1992.

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