Fun at Work

I’m a huge proponent of having fun at work: it’s absolutely essential. It’s so important to me that one of my central tenants is

In business, as in life, if it isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

This line is tacked up beside my desk – that’s how important it is to me. I want to make sure I never lose track of this idea, so I shove it in my own face, and look at it at least several times daily. I recommend you do the same.

…But what do I mean by “fun?” Few people understand me until I explain.

A keg party is fun. Taking that vibe to work can make work play, and play is a very important part of life – too many of us forget that, which has fueled generations of Hollywood movies, which are often not seen by the workaholics who need them most. Oh, well.

Zappos seems to have a culture that is a lot like a keg party, and we customers love them for it! While most people have heard of this remarkable company, an awful lot of folks I talk to have yet to experience them first-hand. Take the time and give them a call. Buy something. Experience the big, fun, goofy all-day-long party that is Zappos. It’ll bring delight and quite possibly levity to your life. Chances are, you’ll get hooked. Theirs is one hell of a compelling business model.

Here’s the thing, though: running a stadium-full of stairs can also be “fun.” That’s what most people don’t get. Hard work toward a goal passionately held is almost by definition fun.

It isn’t laughing-good-time fun. If you look at the face of a person deep in their zone, at work on a challenging problem or striving toward an important goal on the weekends, you’ll often see seriousness, even a dour expression. But that is still every bit as valid a source of “fun” as the occasional bliss of a celebration well-earned.

Recently I wrote on the importance of high morale at work. It makes all the difference, I can assure you. But high morale doesn’t just come from a playful work environment – often it comes from a very difficult work environment. Talk to Marines in basic training and ask them if they’re having fun. They’ll probably say no, because their definition is a bit more constrained than mine. But ask them if they’re proud of themselves. Ask them if they’re still glad they volunteered to be “the few, the proud.” Almost to any man and woman, they’ll tell you yes, they are very glad indeed.

Want to build a successful culture? Make sure it’s fun – by which I mean psychically rewarding. Make sure your people get why they’re doing what you’ve asked them to do; make sure they’ve bought in. Make sure you’re fostering an environment, a culture, where their heroic effort is as important to them as it is to you.

Motivation comes from within. Morale is born of shared values, of difficult challenges faced with courage.

Have fun at work. Maybe that means a keg party. Maybe that means the most demanding environment your people have ever experienced. It’s the meaning they put behind it that makes all the difference.

You’re the leader. Give them that meaning. Then watch them exceed anything you could ever ask of them!

That is the return on morale.


Photo courtesy of JD Hancock

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Kent Julian

    I love it! And let’s face it, most work environments need it.

    Personally, I have found that having fun contributes tremendously to both performance and quality.

    Great points, Ted. By the way, you’re invited to a “wine-down” party at my office (a little classier than a kegger :)

  • Alan Kay

    Yes, it greatly depends on how each situation / group defines fun. A group of scientists could easily describe having a raucous argument about some issue as fun. A sales team could describe a long lunch at the bar as fun.

    Tony Hsieh of Zappos carefully defines fun at his organization based on the relationship between the customers and his staff. What Zappos sells (shoes and apparel widely available anywhere), is less important than the experience the customers enjoy. So, Tony, an MIT grad built morale among staff to enhance the work environment, motivation and so on. What’s impressive is that he started it by studying Seligman’s positive psychology research and developed approaches to hiring and retaining staff.

    Hence, morale at Zappos is a conscious part of the business strategy. It’s value? He sold Zappos to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars.

    While each situation is different, a conscious effort around morale has great value when you get it right.

  • Ted Coine

    That’s right, Alan – thank you for pointing out the quantifiable return (sale to Amazon) that high morale brought Zappos. There’s nothing nebulous about this.

    Another benefit to Hsei, the founder of Zappos? He got to keep his company intact. When he sold Zappos to Amazon, it was a move intended to satisfy his investors, who were clamoring for him to abandon his obsession with culture in order to cut costs and prepare the firm for an IPO. For a lot of entrepreneurs, their company is a part of who they are. It isn’t just the money – often the money is an afterthought, albeit a pleasant one. Founders become proud of their creation, and don’t want it destroyed by pressure from the board or market forces.

    In this case, morale built a company that attracted a buyer who would keep the culture intact. The CEO got to keep his baby. That’s another return brought by morale.

    Money rocks, but there are other considerations in life; even in business.

  • Chuck

    We have no shortage of fun at Orbotix…Eating snake heads, prank wars…the list goes on.

  • Ted Coine

    Chuck, that has nothing whatsoever to do with productivity in the moment – and I L-O-V-E it!! This is the kind of temporary play that recharges us.

    Of course, if we do nothing but prank strangers in coffee shops all day, there goes our startup capital and we’re back to actually working at the coffee shop for $8 an hour. (Ehem). But to play for a few minutes, clear the head, and jump back into work – the world needs a lot more of that!

    Thanks for sharing.

    (Side note: My daughter tapped me on the shoulder as I was watching your video at 6:30 this morning and said, “I thought you were supposed to be working.” Busted! It was a good teachable moment, as they say.)

  • TedCoine

    Thanks Ken. I’m not adverse to beer at work at the end of the day, but if you’re serving wine, who am I to be choosy?

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