“Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun,” said Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Indeed, having fun is an important component of life, and that includes your professional life. However, having fun in the workplace can seem like an impossible task sometimes. There is, after all, lots of work to be accomplished, performance to be measured, and projects to complete. This can make it challenging to find of time and ways to have fun appropriately and constructively.
The benefits of having fun in the workplace are plentiful. Because most fun activities require people to work in groups or teams, the shared experience can increase collaboration, engagement, and foster communication. Having fun fosters motivation and commitment to an organization as people associate the positive feelings and experiences with the workplace. This also increases morale and comradery among the participants, which increases their performance. All these aspects, in turn, foster creativity, innovative thinking, and problem-solving skills. The more creative employees are, the more comradery they feel among themselves, and the better they perform the more turnover is reduced. Having fun in the workplace is incredibly beneficial to both the employees and the organization overall.
In today’s workplace culture, people are generally more aware and considerate of what is appropriate behavior. This also applies to having fun, because if activities are only fun and enjoyable if they are appropriate for everyone involved. It is, therefore, important to establish clear boundaries: what is considered part of this activity and what is not. It is also important to consider different levels of physical, mental, and emotional ability. Having fun is inclusive and collaborative, so it is critical to design activities that everyone can partake in. The activity should also always be optional. Making participation mandatory is not actually fun for people, so make sure that there is an opt-in and opt-out option. Finally, every activity should have some element of learning and education. If you are asking people to participate in a fun activity, ensure that they are learning something about one another or about a specific topic.
There are many different ways in which you can incorporate fun in the workplace. Last year at ASCP, our social committee hosted an ‘Oscar Party” in which we could vote for our colleagues in categories such as “Outside the Box Thinker/Innovator,”, “Outstanding Philanthropist,” and “Rookie of the Year.” Then all staff gathered in the kitchen area of our office that was decorated with a red carpet and we all received a glass of sparkling cider. The winners were announced and cheered on as they walked the red carpet. They gave a short speech after receiving their little Oscar award. It was a simple way to have some collective fun and it felt so great cheering everyone on and recognizing certain employees for their outstanding contribution to the society.
On average, babies laugh about 400 times a day. Adults, on the other hand, only laugh about 35 times a day and significantly less often on weekdays than on weekend (Beard, 2014). Laughter is incredibly important to our overall well-being and performance. In fact, “laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity”(Heggie, 2018). So, let’s try to incorporate more fun and more laughter in both our personal and our professional lives. Let’s find ways to cheer each other up and create a collaborative, warm, and productive environment that fosters engagement, retention, and analytic precision. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
-Lotte Mulder, EdM, is the Senior Manager of Organizational Leadership and Patient Engagement at ASCP. She earned her Masters of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. After she graduated, Lotte started her own consulting company focused on establishing leadership practices in organizations, creating effective organizational structures, and interpersonal coaching. She has worked in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the U.S. on increasing leadership skills in young adults through cultural immersion, service learning and refugee issues, and cross-cultural interpretation. She is currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership.
During the 2019 ASCP Annual Meeting in Phoenix, I noticed a morning workshop session entitled “The Impact of Fun.” The title intrigued me, so decided to take a break from the science and clinical medicine workshops that I would normally attend, and take advantage of the opportunity to listen in.
I have been working as a pathologist and lab director for 30 years, and while I hate to admit it, I had never thought seriously about taking time during the day for playing games with my co-workers. I was always consumed with meetings, deadlines, and getting the clinical work completed.
At the beginning of the course, I was a little unsure what I had gotten myself into. However by the time the workshop concluded, the reality of what I had been missing had set in.
When I returned to work following the meeting, I began to search for fun activities that our lab team could do over a lunch hour. I set a date and promised food to entice the wary into attending the event in the conference room. Once they had assembled, I divided the group into two teams by drawing an imaginary line down the middle of the room. We then played team trivia using a book of questions I had acquired. By the end of the hour, everyone was laughing and having fun. The lab continued to buzz with talk and occasional laughter all afternoon.
We have continued setting aside one noon hour each month where we gather for different types of games. Charades, and Pictionary have been hits. Mostly everyone brings their own lunch, but food or deserts are provided on occasion to keep these events special. There are a few who choose not to participate, but even they occasionally show up to watch and laugh along with the rest. As is pointed out above, you cannot make having fun a mandatory or it ceases to be fun.
Our lab staff really seem to enjoy these events and so does this old pathologist. During our most recent event, one of my young colleagues remarked how much fun these lunches have been, and that they hoped we would continue these going forward. I intend to keep these going as long as I continue working. It has provided me with an opportunity to get to know each of my co-workers much better. I only wish I had learned about the importance of having fun with your co-workers and teammates earlier in my career. I encourage other pathologists, lab directors and section supervisors to learn from my experience and begin finding ways to bring the fun back into the workplace if you have not already done so.
-Dr. Wisecarver is currently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Pathology/Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. He served as Medical Director of the Clinical Laboratories for Nebraska Medicine, their clinical affiliate from 1996 until 2017. He currently serves as the Director of the Histocompatibility Laboratory for Nebraska Medicine.