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

Why Companies are Putting Fun to Work

"A company that has fun, where employees . . . put cartoons on

the wall and celebrate, is spirited, creative, and usually profitable."

(David Baum)

Last month, we discussed the fear many companies have of permitting humor and fun on the job. This month, we’ll focus on why so many companies have overcome this fear and now encourage employees to find ways to make work fun.

The most striking feature of most corporations today is change. The pace of change is faster than ever before, and continues to increase. Companies recognize that if they want to survive--even thrive-- in the global market place, they have no choice but to be able to adapt quickly. They also know that employees tend to resist change. I often hear employees saying, "It takes us a full year to really get to the point where we’ve mastered the new technology. And then, what do they do? They change it! They say, ‘We’ve found something that will be much more efficient, and help you do your job better.’"

Many companies have become leaner in recent years, but are still trying to increase productivity, creating the need to "do more with less." There are also constant pressures to do things faster, to assimilate more information, and to learn new skills and adopt new responsibilities. All of these changes in the past decade have triggered more job stress than ever before. And it is precisely because of the growing conviction that stress levels are getting unmanageable that employers are now trying unorthodox approaches (that they would never have considered a decade ago) to helping employees deal with their stress. Companies want stress management techniques which help their employees deal with job stress, but which make work more enjoyable and boost productivity at the same time!

Learning to lighten up on the job--to take yourself lightly while continuing to take your work seriously--achieves all three of these goals. Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have for coping with any source of stress in your life. When you’re able to find a light side of deadlines, conflicts and other aspects of your job--especially on the tough days--you have a tool for letting go of the frustrations and upsets of the moment. This enables you to sustain a frame of mind conducive to dealing more effectively with the problem of the moment. Bringing your sense of humor to your job (when appropriate) also goes a long way in helping make your work fun. Reduced job stress, greater enjoyment of your work, and sustaining a frame of mind conducive to effective working all make a significant contribution to the goal of increased productivity and quality service.

The productivity benefits of humor are evident in the following letter, which was sent to me by a corporate manager following my program for the company.

"Working with people on a daily basis can be so rewarding when

there is laughter in the environment. In many crises I experience

on the job--work stoppages, natural disasters, and emergencies--

laughter helps ease tensions, and the focus on getting the tasks

done becomes more enjoyable and less stressful. I’ve heard other

managers and their employees comment on my employees’

attitudes. I often hear, ‘How do they make their sales and service

objectives? That group laughs from the time they come in until the time they leave.’ But the laughter is infectious, and the employees and myself enjoy coming to work with each other every day."

The idea that work should be fun is not new. John Naisbitt noted 13 years ago, in his book Reinventing the Corporation, that

"Many business people have mourned the death of the work ethic

in America. But few of us have applauded the logic of the new

value taking its place: ‘Work should be Fun.’ That outrageous

assertion is the value that fuels the most productive people and

companies in this country ."

I have often had companies for whom I’m doing a humor program tell me that in filling many of their positions, they specifically look for some evidence that a potential new employee (especially for management positions) has a sense of humor. They know that this is a skill that will serve both the employee and the company well, because people with good humor skills are more likely to take the initiative to do whatever it takes to be responsible for making their work enjoyable--perhaps, even fun--and that doing so will help make them and their co-workers more productive..

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