The Case for Having Fun at Work

group of coworkers celebrating together in their office December 8, 2022 By: Barbara Arango, CAE

Research shows the benefits that humor brings to people’s mental and physical health. And the same is true for the workplace. A look at how to bring elements of fun to your association.

Instead of working for a living, how about having fun for a living? Even if you don’t love every aspect of your job, it’s important to remember to incorporate fun in your workday.

As association professionals looking for ways to deal with burnout and staff turnover, you can start by focusing on improving your culture and work environment.

Research shows the many benefits of humor and levity for people’s mental and physical health. And this is true for the workplace as well. In their book Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth, and David Wolfe demonstrate the financial benefits organizations can reap by making sure they have a culture that includes fun. Look at Southwest Airlines for the perfect example: “Southwest’s employees are introduced to the positive contribution that humor can make to easing customer’s anxieties, as well as to making work more fun,” the authors wrote. The antics by Southwest employees are legendary and create incredible brand loyalty.

So, humor is good for your team and it’s good for the bottom line—but how do you do it? Now I may have a slight advantage being in the parks and recreation industry, but fun can be incorporated into the culture of any organization. Here are some ideas that you can bring back to your association.

Put Fun on the Agenda

You’ve heard the saying, “work hard, play hard”. It’s well known that taking breaks can make you more productive. Your brain needs down time to perform at its best. Schedule some time for your team to bond over a fun activity or friendly competition. We do a monthly staff huddle that includes both work and fun on the agenda. Game ideas include “Two Truths and a Lie”, “Would you Rather?” and “Never Have I Ever…” We not only end up laughing a lot, but we also learn more about each other.

Use Levity of Voice

In our office, we have one person who always finds the perfect meme to post on our Teams discussions. It threads humor throughout the workday. One of the priorities I communicated to my staff when I started this position was that I wanted us to laugh every day. It seems like a “fluffy” requirement, but if you make fun a priority, your staff will feel more comfortable incorporating fun themselves. It lightens the mood in the office and greatly reduces the overall stress level.

Humor is good for your team and it’s good for the bottom line—but how do you do it?
Look for opportunities to use that levity in member communications as well. Can you find some fun facts to post on social media? Or incorporate a contest for your members? We all know how much fun conferences can be, but where else can you provide opportunities for your members to really enjoy themselves? People are drawn to enjoyment. Build a “fun space” and members will come.

Lead by Example

If you are stressed, rushed, or overly serious, your staff will not only pick up on that, but they will also feel the same way. The people around you will mirror your mood, so start by taking deep breaths, relaxing, and showing up every day with a great attitude. Fun and laughter are both contagious. Show your staff you can enjoy work and even poke a little fun at yourself. And have your newly energized staff provide an example for your members. This is not something reserved for “fun” industries like parks and recreation either. Host a brainstorming session, and I’m sure you will come up with many ideas for lightening up your industry.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Bob Nelson advocated for the importance of fun: “Though fun at work is sometimes thought to be a distraction, research suggests that it has a positive impact on engagement, creativity, and purpose—increasing employee retention and reducing turnover.”

Keeping your employees and members happy is going to produce dividends for your association. But more importantly, in a world where we should all take better care of each other, it is also just the right thing to do.

Barbara Arango, CAE

Barbara Arango, CAE, is executive director of the Illinois Park & Recreation Association.