What’s so funny about fun (at work)?

First, let’s start with a laugh.

Imagine a work environment where your bosses wanted you to have fun at work. Where company time was set aside for outings, events and whatnot. Where you were encouraged to get out and play once in awhile.

Okay, stop laughing. That used to be true.

Because companies used to follow research. And research has consistently shown that when employees have fun at work, they are more productive and more committed. Here’s an excerpt from one study:

Studies suggest that workplace fun may be an inexpensive, profitable mechanism of engagement that correlates directly with increasing employee job satisfaction, cultivating morale, and improving quality of customer service.”

Anyone remember the term, “work/life balance?”

About 15 years ago, I wrote a web site for one of the big accounting firms targeting new graduates that was devoted entirely to work/life balance. Today, that’s a term about as popular as a Flash website.

Welcome to Dickensian hell.

Unfortunately, the age of fun at work has passed. Today’s workplace has become a Dickensian hell where people keep their heads down and are just relieved to have a job, as miserable as it may be.

We’ve become Great Recession babies.

Why the dour change? Lots of reasons: the Great Recession of 2008, constant mergers and resulting employee “redundancies” leading to regular layoffs, global competition, online disintermediation, and a bunch of other multi-syllable words.

And today, even though the economy has changed for the better, the overall mindset hasn’t. We don’t expect to enjoy work. And if we do, we suspect that we must be doing something wrong since everyone else is miserable. Which then leads us to believe we will most likely be first up for the next round of layoffs.

Fun? That’s just a funny word. Fun at work? That’s just sacrilege.

I didn’t realize how un-fun we have become until I collaborated with B12 Productions to create a tribute video for Mike Lazur, who was inducted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (MAHF). It was a fabulous video project, as I got to direct and interview Mike and other top folks in the medical advertising industry. What came across was how much fun they all had doing groundbreaking creative. In fact, the stories about arm wrestling in bars, pop-up band improvs at work and best dressed competitions kind of stole the show.

Lack of fun is not only the fault of corporations.

It’s not just the economy and corporations who are to blame for fun-less workplaces. It’s also us self-employed contractors and freelancers who make up a large and growing segment of the workforce. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Years back, an afternoon without a deadline meant it was time to take out the bike, take a nap, or take in a matinee. But in today’s fun-less world? A light afternoon is time for employment paranoia (“Will I ever work again? Should I be doing more? What did I miss? What kind of busy work can I drum up?”) And that refreshingly free afternoon could easily turn into a tedious and tenuous slog through useless make-work.

How to bring a little fun back to your job.

First of all, if you’re waiting for a company field trip, good luck on that long line to nowhere. And if you need me to give you tips, your fun-less condition may be even worse than I feared. But what the hell, I’ll throw out a few suggestions:

  1. Get lost in a good book. No, not social media, a real book — or even a comic book. Whether you like a digital copy or paper, or even an audiobook, it’s a great way to leave your head for a few times a day. Personally, I’m loving the Red Rising series, which is helping me survive the long wait for the next Game of Thrones book.
  2. Get lost in a good movie. Pop the Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO or any other movie app on your phone or tablet, and you can escape with a few movie breaks during the day.
  3. Get lost. Just start walking. With no destination in mind. And breathe. See where you end up. Then if you have to, pop on your GPS and find your way back. Or not.
  4. Get huffing. A bit of exercise is not only good for the body, it’s good for the head. Do that get-lost walk at double time. Take on a few flights of stairs. Do some dips on your chair. Whatever it takes to get the blood moving.
  5. Get in tune. Load up your favorite tunes and just listen. Okay, you can sing along if you’re in a private place.
  6. Get unconscious. A ten-minute catnap is a wonderful refresher, if you can find a private place to do it. But make sure to keep it short and set an alarm so you don’t lose the day.
  7. Get out. If your gig is so miserable that you can’t imagine having fun for even a few moments a day, it might be time to go. Maybe not right away, but it’s never too early to start planning an exit strategy. Because the cost of relentless stress on your mind, body and soul is … well, that’s for another article.

Make a fun plan.

Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of this fun thing right away. Just stick with your plan. And that strange feeling that will appear on your face? It’s called a smile.

Mark Bellusci is an award-winning filmmaker, published playwright and freelance copywriter. The filmmaking and playwriting started as hobbies, became crafts, and are now how he makes his living, along with copywriting. And somewhere along the way, he picked up an MBA from Baruch College, CCNY. See his stuff at markbellusci.com