I’ve spent the last year thinking about fun. Not the fun you have when you’re supposed to be having fun – like when you’re on vacation, going skiing, or playing with your kids – but specifically, the fun you have at work. Gasp! I said it – the words fun and work in the same sentence!
When I talk to clients about their work – especially if they’re looking to transition to a new job or career – I always bring up the topic of fun. And the resistance I meet is HUGE. Yes, they tell me – passion, purpose, contribution – that’s all fine to consider as foundations for your work. But FUN? That’s going too far. It’s crazy! They insist that fun is not supposed to be a guiding principle at work. After all, it’s called “work” for a good reason.
Hmm… is that really true? In 2015, I set out to explore the idea of fun at work more deeply. I thought about it a lot. I had conversations about it, I coached about it, I meditated on it, and I asked myself the question “Am I having fun” regularly while I completed my work tasks. I thought about what feelings often show up when I’m having fun – joy, happiness, excitement, love, eagerness, and more. I looked at other values and needs that seemed to tag along when I was having fun (connection, intimacy, authenticity, partnership, learning, and community, to name a few.) I talked to other people about their particularly experiences of fun at work, delving into the needs, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs around fun as well as their impact. Finally, I concluded that yes, having fun is indeed an integral part of work that truly fulfills you - it improves both our experience and performance. So why don’t we give ourselves permission or opportunity to have fun at work?
I think the two main reasons are first, that we’re stuck on what we “should” do (and how we should do it), and second, that we’re worried about what other people will think. These 2 ideas are closely related and actually 2 sides of the same coin. Our “should’s” come from our own judgments of the right way to do things, and are usually reflected in what others around us think is right (or at least what we project that they must be thinking – since our worries are usually based on our assumptions rather than what others actually are thinking!) For example, the majority of us believe what my clients do – that work is not “supposed” to be fun, and that if you’re having fun (or at least too much fun) you aren’t being responsible or productive enough. Moreover, that you will be perceived by others as not being responsible or productive. However, those beliefs not only don’t serve us, but they also don’t seem to be supported by reality. People who have fun at work are generally more productive and responsible than their “not having any fun” counterparts. As for our experience, I’m sure we would all agree that having fun is better than not!
So would you be willing to explore what having more fun at work would look like for you? Can you imagine making fun a prerequisite for a new job or career? I’m not talking about 24/7 – obviously sometimes there are tasks we’re going to need to complete at work that don’t fulfill our idea of fun. But if you are willing to shift your belief into one that work should be fun – at least much of the time - you’ll be amazed at how much your perception of things can change, without huge differences in your overall task list.
For example, one thing I learned about myself this past year is my relationship between fun and writing. I love to write, and I’ve always considered myself a writer at heart, although it is not my main “job” at work. But although I was aware of differences in my joy level when writing (e.g. I prefer writing a love letter to a grant proposal), I never considered how these differences played out in my work. This is the first blog post I’ve written in over a year, because I noticed that when I asked myself if I was having fun, I always seemed to choose a different writing project over a blog post. When I looked closer, I noticed that writing for me is most enjoyable when 1) I feel connected to the person who will read what I wrote, 2) I can write about a topic in depth, rather than superficially, or 3) I have a clear idea of how my writing contributes to my bigger goal. In the case of writing, I get a lot of enjoyment from my correspondence to clients and peers (#1), working on my book project (#2), and working on workshop curriculum and proposals (#3). Asking myself the question of whether I was having fun or not made it clear to me that in the case of writing a blog post, I was doing this because I thought I should, or because I was worried about what other people would think if I didn’t, rather than because I wanted to.
Now, I’m not saying just stop doing the tasks that aren’t fun at work – obviously, that might not be a great long-term decision! But I am suggesting to think about what is most fun for you and why, as well as exploring which tasks you don’t enjoy and why. This information is critical to being able to make minor tweaks that can translate into big differences. I found that I could sort all the tasks I didn’t enjoy into three categories: 1) things that didn’t actually have a big impact on my business, but I was doing them out of should thinking or concern of what others would think, 2) tasks that fulfilled important functions, but which I could figure out other ways of fulfilling those functions that were more enjoyable, or 3) jobs that I acknowledged – although not particularly enjoyable – represented the quickest, easiest, way to achieve outcomes that were important for my work. Given that most of us are not entrepreneurs, you may have very few tasks that fall into category #1 and can be dropped entirely. But you may be surprised at how many of these action items can be morphed into category #2 – it may be that your boss doesn’t appreciate how much of your valuable time you spend doing a mundane task you don’t enjoy, and how it could get done cheaper, quicker, or more accurately with support from an automated system, another employee who does similar functions routinely, subscription software, an outside service provider, etc. Even the areas where I didn’t make any changes at all – for example, some accounting tasks – felt more enjoyable when I realized that in fact, the way I was doing it was currently the most efficient, cost-effective way and that the task was critical for my work to function smoothly.
I invite you to explore the idea of fun at work and notice how your productivity and responsibility shift in relation to your enjoyment. What’s been the outcome of your work when you’re really having fun? Are you ready to consider fun part of your job description? I’d love to hear any of your comments below.