In Business

Fun and humour in the workplace

March, 2022

By: Frank Olsson

I have attended many in-house conferences, during which people list fun as a key criterion for a good workplace. Some of the old stalwarts may struggle a bit with this – they ask, “are we here to do a good job or to have fun?” Perhaps it is in the human psyche to juxtapose concepts as opposites when they really are not. One example of that is profit or environmental responsibility – they can and must align and go hand-in-hand. Similarly, fun and making work enjoyable will reflect on the quality and output, since having fun brings enthusiasm and energy to tasks and keeps the always-prevalent threat of fatigue and boredom at bay. Once we have established that fun is useful and positive, we need to ensure that each new hire and promotion stimulates and boosts an environment of fun and building a good culture. Contextualising intelligence and expertise with other ‘softer’ skills, and even making trade-offs, may well pay off. A little bit less of an expert but someone more appealing on interpersonal skills may well be a better team member. Arguably it is easier to acquire knowledge than to change personality. When hiring, it is not the best person we should look for but the best complement to what we already have, implementing and leveraging the principle of diversity.

Positive, smiling people with a sense of humour are fun. Putting a funny twist on things in any setting has the potential to reinvigorate and take tension out of work and relationships. It suggests that laughing is as important as results and that these two concepts are often mutually enhancing. Some do the fun part very naturally, due to the influence of nature or nurture, while others struggle a little and so may need some help with it. Those who professionally prepare people for working life, in our high schools and universities, should understand and include personality formation as life success criteria and try to make it an integral part of their teaching. Am I suggesting that teachers should be fun as well? Yes! I have little doubt that in any student assessments of their teachers, higher marks will be allocated those who are delightful, fun, and smiley.

Perhaps fun is just a higher level of life than one focused exclusively on efficiency and productivity. It is very easy to get trapped and stuck on the means for survival and lose track of the end itself, the end being an enjoyable, pleasurable journey full of interesting challenges. If you spend the lion’s part of your life trying to improve efficiency rather than creating joy for others and yourself, have you got the balance right? Whatever looks boring and uninteresting can be positioned to be a fun exercise, but we need to understand that a personal reward like fun is not an aberration and a cost but an enhancer of results. If we are unlucky and work for people or organisations which don’t understand this, we would be well advised to introduce change or seek our fortunes elsewhere. Clever people are unlikely to hang around in boring organisations. Non-fun is therefore likely to equal less competitive and less sustainable.

In a piece of research in Harvard Business Review the finding is that humour makes people seem more intelligent. Other research suggest people with humour are smart and they are nicer to be around. In any setting if you can see and comment on any funny angle in addressing or solving a problem, others get enchanted and any barrier to participation and contribution disappears. In an environment where people are happy and laughing there is more openness and less fear. Anyone who doesn’t laugh regularly cannot be taken seriously

Frank Olsson, President New Zealand Europe Business Council                  
From Frank’s book – “Learning to dance – Corporate Style”

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