This article was originally published on the Bonusly blog
We’ve all heard the famous Mark Twain quote: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”But we also all know that it’s easier said than done. A lot easier. Even the best jobs on earth have days or weeks that are a slog.
Acknowledging this reality means embracing the fact that bringing enjoyment to all jobs is critical. Bringing and sharing this joy means introducing fun things into your job regardless of your role, tenure, or industry.
Games and fun do something incredible for our psychology: according to American psychiatrist William Fry, laughter and fun actively reduce stress by lowering levels of the hormone cortisol. By actively and regularly considering fun in the workplace, company leaders will improve morale and establish a foundational part of company culture.
I’m a lifelong believer in the power of fun inside and outside of the workplace, whether through inventing new games with my five siblings, injecting laughter into a stressful work meeting, or bringing weekly trivia to workplaces around the world via Water Cooler Trivia.
The best and easiest way to introduce fun? Games. We’ve put together the greatest hits on why fun is such a critical component of a healthy company culture and ideas on how to bring fun to your team.
We can’t avoid it: 2020 has been tough, and HR managers are seeing this every day. According to Lattice, employee morale was the top challenge for nearly 70% of the 1,700 HR professionals Lattice surveyed in April 2020.
The increasing normalization of work-from-home and remote-friendly policies will elevate the need to fight isolation through culture-building fun. Morale and isolation aren’t just a problem during a global pandemic, either. A Kaiser Permanente/Economist study in 2018 revealed that millennials are nearly twice as likely to feel lonely as other workers.
Introducing light-hearted fun activities is a surefire way to boost morale. In that same Lattice survey, nearly 25% of teams had actively introduced games for the purpose of morale-boosting. On the topic of morale, one respondent wrote that “virtual team lunches have been really fun for our team.”
We’ve got a new math equation that you probably didn’t encounter in your Algebra class: 2 Coworkers x Fun = Better Collaboration. And we can prove it… (dramatic pause) … with science!
Research has revealed that employees with friends at work are twice as likely to be engaged than those without friends at work. That engagement level has a direct impact on almost all aspects of work.
According to leadership adviser and New York Times bestselling author Annie McKee, friendship is one of the keys to being happy at work.
“One of the most pernicious myths in today’s organizations is that you don’t have to be friends with your coworkers. Common sense and my decades of work with people and companies show the exact opposite. Love and a sense of belonging at work are as necessary as the air we breathe.”
Fun and positive emotions are more likely to be contagious in the workplace, so the impact of fun can ripple through an office. A Yale University School of Management study found that among working groups, cheerfulness and warmth spread most easily, while irritability is less contagious.
The contagiousness of having fun means that introducing games and joy into the workplace can build friendships that improve employee engagement and job satisfaction.
Despite the rise of “multi-teaming,” most employees still only know a fraction of their overall office or company. Meeting other employees through fun and games builds up the social network within an office, and the benefits of this denser network of relationships manifest as increased trust, deeper transparency, and more willingness to communicate openly and collaborate.
Even more importantly, fun and games can serve as great “flatteners” that lower the barriers between employees at different tenure and seniority levels.
Anecdote time: as an intern at my first office job, I sent around trivia quizzes just for fun, and this became the conversation-starter for conversations I had with managers and partners at my consulting firm. This built my confidence and allowed me to speak up in meetings more effectively than if I’d remained unnecessarily intimidated by my more-tenured colleagues.
On top of breaking down barriers, teams that self-identify as fun are also dramatically more likely to have highly engaged employees. According to Bonusly’s research, 95% of Highly Engaged employees say they work on a fun team, compared to only 41% of Actively Disengaged employees. Check out the 2019 Employee Engagement & Modern Workplace Report for even more data insights.
Although it can seem a bit misleading at first, breaking up the workday with times of fun actually can result in more productive outcomes for companies of all stripes.
While the doom-and-gloom low morale stats at the top of this post can seem like a bummer, the flipside is sweeter: a more engaged team with higher morale leads to higher productivity.
Here’s more science backing up this culture-building strategy:
“In three different styles of experiment, randomly selected individuals are made happier either through the use of a short (10 minute) comedy clip or through the provision of drinks and snacks. We check that these methods make the subjects happier (they do) and then go on to show that these individuals have approximately 12% greater productivity than a control group.”
-Daniel Sgroi, Happiness and productivity: Understanding the happy-productive worker
That means individuals are more productive at their own work when they’re happier, and the effects compound at the team and office level.
According to a meta-analysis performed by Gallup, work teams in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Toss in 25% lower turnover as the cherry on top. 🍒
So, we see that happiness is contagious and helps build workplace friendships. Then, we confirmed that workplace friendships deepen employee engagement. And lastly, stronger employee engagement means more productive companies.
The secret to it all? Bringing happy, work-appropriate fun into your team’s week.
The logistics and social pressure of an organized company event can actually create stress and anxiety for some workers:
“One critical thing to remember is that not all employees like to have fun at work, especially when it is a packaged official fun in which all employees are ‘supposed’ to participate.”
As social events move to videoconferencing and distributed teams introduce many timezones into a single team, the opportunity cost of joining a coordinated social event increases when employees are at home with their families. This means it’s more important than ever to consider “asynchronous fun” like a trivia contest taken at any time throughout the week.
“Asynchronous fun” is a mouthful, so let’s break it down. It means, quite simply “fun at different times for different folks."
Traditional happy hours at a bar near the office or a coordinated holiday part are “synchronous fun” meaning that all employees are together at the same time as each other. However, with distributed teams, a 5 p.m. East Coast time virtual happy hour might not be as fun for timezone shifted employees in Poland when it’s 11 p.m. and their kids are asleep in bed.
During WFH-centric times, “asynchronous fun” can be especially important as folks are making a direct trade-off between their home life (spending time with loved ones) and work events. Consider trivia, polls, and other ways to participate in fun that don't necessarily require everyone to be in the same place at the same time, and that can be stretched over a period of time.
Anything that gives you a chance to share your personality in a professional environment can introduce fun. That’s why Bonusly’s recognition and rewards platform allows you to include GIFs, images, and emojis in bonuses you send to teammates.
Importantly, all of the above are designed to be virtual-friendly. They can also be played in-person or with “hybrid-distributed” teams that are partially in person and partially remote.
Team leaders know better than anyone else what makes their team tick. Don’t fear the idea of relying on your own creativity to introduce fun into the workplace. There’s no need to wait for “official” fun from the company’s Social Committee when any teammate can bring a trivia contest or icebreaker into a Zoom meeting.
One idea: open a Manager 1:1 with a story that recently made you laugh. Building these “uneventful” elements of fun are a way to build rapport with your colleagues and strengthen relationships. In addition, it’s a perfect way to lead by example and introduce a more trustful and social office culture.
Physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “We don’t quit playing because we grow older; we grow older because we quit playing.” Fun and work sometimes are at opposite poles in some people’s minds, but they don’t have to be.
Introducing small ways to create fun in the workplace is the ultimate win-win. Managers and team leaders win because they have a more engaged and productive workforce. Employees win because they are able to express themselves more freely in the workplace and improve their workplace morale while banishing a sense of isolation.