Whose Job is it to Cultivate Fun in the Workplace?

Supervisors Play a Critical Role.

Cultivating Fun in the WorkplaceAs you may have seen in my last post, Having Fun in the Workplace — Why it’s Important, adding fun into your workplace provides a variety of benefits for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.

Even a company’s customers seem to reap the benefits of having more satisfied employees, which can come from the added element of fun. This is why fun should be ingrained into a company’s culture and supervisors play a critical role in making that happen.

The Gallup organization defines business culture as the attitudes employees have about their work environment and the employee behaviors that are linked to key business outcomes such as productivity, employee retention, customer loyalty, and profitability. Think about that definition. It has two distinct elements — employee attitudes about work and the resulting behaviors.

As you focus on your culture, it is critical that you keep the balance of these two elements. When it comes to workplace fun, you want to make sure your associates are enjoying their work yet remain focused on achieving or exceeding required results and overall goals. Additionally, if you are encouraging and supporting a fun culture, and you aren’t having any fun yourself, you are sending a mixed message to your team. It’s important for employees to see their supervisor practicing what they preach when establishing a fun culture. A mixed message may create internal conflict for some employees, which could act as a barrier to him or her embracing this new way of doing business.

The Supervisor’s Role

Obviously, fun means different things to different people. But as a supervisor or manager, there are things you can do to help create a fun environment and support your associates. Keep in mind that each associate also has to do his or her part in order to make “fun” work.

There are three key elements for building fun into work:

  1. An environment that encourages and supports fun.
  2. Personal knowledge by supervisors of what each associate considers fun in the workplace.
  3. Working together to grow the fun factor for associates that choose to be part of the plan.

The reality is that there are some people who just don’t want to join in the fun. They don’t get it. They don’t want to be part of it, and you can’t make it fun for them no matter what you do. However, you don’t have to stop the culture shift on their account. The hope is that these reluctant employees will eventually get the hang of it, or possibly move on to a new opportunity—and that’s ok.

So let’s look at each of the key elements of a fun workplace from the role of the supervisor.

1. An environment that encourages and supports fun.

Remember, that as a supervisor you don’t have to do all the work, but without your support of a fun environment, the “fun factor” will eventually wilt and die — the same ending seen for many office plants all over the globe.

You may want to start by assessing employees’ feelings about the workplace. Annual associate surveys may give you some sense on how strongly the workforce desires some fun. These annual surveys give associates a confidential forum to share their thoughts on all aspects of your company and their jobs.

There are five critical pieces that will help ensure this process is successful:
  • Surveys must be confidential.
  • Questions should be well planned and well written.
  • Associates should be able to easily access the surveys.
  • There should be timely follow-up with associates regarding their feedback.

There are hundreds of companies that will conduct the survey for you and many even show free sample surveys on their websites to give you a sense of good survey questions. If confident in the strength of your survey, you could conduct it yourself by using free online software like SurveyMonkey.

Aside from this annual assessment, there are also opportunities for you to do more frequent checks that aren’t so formal. It could be an impromptu survey or even sitting down with the different work groups over pizza and asking the famous Ed Koch question, “How am I doing?” Your associates will appreciate you taking the time to ask. Just make sure and listen!

There is nothing worse than a manager asking a question like this; not paying attention to the answer and not providing any follow-up. If you aren’t exactly sure what associates are telling you, make sure to ask questions. Once associates share their opinions, they will expect some type of action.

As you have your discussions with employees, you may want to listen for some key words or phrases that are often used to describe an environment that workers desire and consider if these elements exist at your company.

In other words, do your associates feel:
  • Valued
  • Accountable
  • Comfortable
  • Supported
Are they:
  • Able to be creative
  • Able to communicate openly
  • Part of a bigger picture
  • Part of a team
  • Treated fairly
  • Important to the success of the company
Do they have:
  • Freedom
  • A sense of ownership

Having answers from annual and informal surveys allows you to know your employees better — the second key element for bringing fun into the workplace.

2. Personal knowledge by supervisors of what each associate considers fun in the workplace.

As a supervisor, it is important that you know specific information about each of your direct reports to further add to your bank of knowledge. The question now becomes what should you know? I highly encourage you to start by having conversations that are engaging. To help jump start this process, I have provided you with a list of questions below:

  •  Do you enjoy your job?
  • Are you having fun?
  • If yes, tell me about it. What does “fun” mean to you?
  • If no, tell me about it. What would make it “fun” for you?
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What don’t you enjoy about working here?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • What don’t you enjoy about your job?

In all these questions, you can look for specifics to discuss in further detail. Clearly, your goal is to find out what they enjoy and what they are passionate about, as well as what causes them to struggle. Knowing their struggles doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to take them away. But, you can look into other ways to make their current tasks more interesting and fun. Even better, you can see if there is someone else on your team that would love to take on those responsibilities. One employee’s challenges may be another employee’s fun.

During this questioning, be sure to communicate that your focus is on them — the associate. Explain that you value him or her on your team, and that your goal is to see if you can bring a little more fun to their job and to the workplace. Who wouldn’t respect a supervisor for taking an interest and having a conversation like this?

Now that you are armed with a plethora of associate information, you need to do something with it, which is the third element of creating fun at work.

3. Working together to grow the fun factor for associates that choose to be part of the plan.

After gathering all the information you need, it is important to put together a plan. As I discussed earlier, it will take both you and your associates to make a fun workplace happen. You will have associates that are very satisfied with their jobs and are already having fun; some that fall in the middle of the fun scale; and some that are not having any fun at all. Obviously, the more associates you find in the middle and at the bottom, the more work you have to do. So, let’s look at each group individually.

Having Fun:

These individuals are already cultivating their own fun. From the one-on-one discussions, you will know their “fun factors” and will want to make sure you stay focused on them. At this point, you probably don’t need or want to make many changes.

Something to remember about the employees already having fun is that you want this group to be your best performers. If you have individuals that are having fun at work but not performing well, that is an issue that needs to be addressed — and let’s face it — that’s not going to be fun. It is very important to keep the concept of balance in mind. Having fun with high performance is your target.

In The Middle:

These individuals may say that sometimes they have fun but not on a regular basis. The opportunity here is to explore those times when they do have fun. What is it that brings the fun to their work? Are you able to do anything that can make that situation more consistent?

Not Having Any Fun:

These individuals may be the toughest group. For some, it just may be that they don’t feel like they belong or don’t feel like part of the team. By having engaging discussions as explained early and working with associates to create a better working environment, you may be able to solve most of the problem.

Part of this group may come to realize things aren’t so bad, and that they need to adjust their own fun meter. Some may choose not to make any change, but you should always leave the door open for this group as they may think differently after seeing positive changes happening with their co-workers.

You may have a group of employees who will likely never get on board or even consider having fun at work. If they are good performers, just let them be and hope they eventually come around to being part of the fun. On the other hand, if you have associates who are inconsistent performers, there are likely other issues involved. They may not be a member of your team much longer.

As a gentle reminder, when I talk about fun in the workplace, I am talking about helping people find their passion and creating an environment of support — one that encourages associates to excel. Each associate’s “fun factor” should not be something that is distracting and annoying to other associates. It should be something that keeps them upbeat and focused on their job.