In 1984, Walmart’s then CFO David Glass predicted that the company could achieve 8 percent pretax profit that year. But Sam Walton(Founder of Walmart) firmly believed it was unattainable. Sam placed a bet saying that he would do the Hula on Wall Street if Walmart achieved an 8 percent pretax profit. Unfortunately, Sam lost the bet. He thought he could slip away to a quiet place near the stock exchange and do the dance without anyone noticing it. However, David Glass hired “a truckload of real hula dancers and ukulele players” who joined Sam Walton. He also alerted the newspapers and TV networks. Sam and hula dance became very popular.
Sam Walton encouraged fun as part of the work culture. He writes —
- The company had a folk called Mike “Possum” Johnson, who entertained the employees by taking on challenges in a no-holds-barred persimmon-seed-spitting contest, using the company’s general counsel as the official target.
- One of the senior managers had to wrestle a bear after losing a bet with his crew regarding sales projections.
- Another time, the vice-president of the company had to come dressed in pink tights and a long blonde wig and ride a white horse around the town square.
- Once Walmart’s president was made to wear a crazy dress and ride a donkey around the store’s parking lot.
- One of the executives used to ask even customers to play hide and seek to collect mystery prizes.
- There was a ‘Kiss-the-pig’ contest to raise money for charity. The manager who ended up with the most donations had to kiss a pig.
- There was a costume competition, fashion shows using senior men.
- There’s the world championship of the ‘Moon Pie Eating’ contest.
The highlight of Walmart’s work culture is—The fun part is not organizationally sponsored. The culture empowers individuals/employees to think up crazy ideas to bring enjoyment and pleasure into the work environment themselves. It helped them to break the mold and fight monotony.
The Meetings — Sam Walton and his team would begin weekly business meetings by singing a cheer song. He said that it pumped up the people. Most of the time, a crazy event/game also would precede the business discussion where everybody had to participate. Sam Walton calls this fun time “Whistle While You Work.”
Sam Walton writes, “We work so hard. But doesn’t mean that we have to go with long faces all the time, taking ourselves seriously, pretending we’re lost in thought over weighty problems. So, while we’re doing all this work, we like to have a good time. And, we observed that we work better because of that fun. We build spirit and excitement. We break down barriers, which helps us communicate better with one another. And we make our people feel part of a family.”
Sam adds, “As a leader, don’t take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everybody around you will loosen up.” And so they did.
At Google, Larry, Sergey, Jonathan, and Eric nurtured fun at the workplace.
Jonathan Rosenberg is a former Senior Vice President of Products at Google and a current advisor to Alphabet Inc.
- One day, Jonathan lost a bet to one of his colleagues, Cindy. The stake was that the loser had to wash the winner’s car. Cindy rented a stretch Hummer, splashed mud as much as possible, and then gathered her team to watch Jonathan clean the giant SUV. She and her teammates also pelted him with water balloons while Jonathan washed the Hummer.
- Jonathan and his team used to take several outdoor trips in a year to have fun. They also had various competitive games to energize people and form a bond.
- Once, Eric led the entire Seoul team in dancing “Gangnam Style” with Korean pop star PSY. Of course, he was very poor at dancing. But Eric writes, “When you’re a leader, everyone is watching, so it doesn’t matter that you dance poorly, it matters that you dance.”
Jonathan writes that the fun comes from anywhere everywhere — The key is to set boundaries of what is permissible as broadly as possible. Nothing can be sacred.
Bill Campbell was former VP of Marketing and board director for Apple Inc. and former CEO for Claris, Intuit, and GO Corporation. He was an active promoter of fun at the workplace.
During weekly business meetings with his staff members, Bill Campbell would start the discussion by asking for a report of what people did for the weekend. The members would share tales of their outstation trips, family get-togethers, programs for their children, and other personal stories. It was a casual discussion. However, Bill Campbell says that though the conversation seemed impromptu and informal at first glance, it was a part of a communications approach. It served twofold objectives.
- Team members get to know each other as people with families and fascinating lives outside of work
- It would get everyone involved in the meeting from the outset in a fun way. There would be a lot of humor and laughter.
One of Zappos’ core values is ‘Create Fun and Little Weirdness’. Zappos motivates people to create funny situations in everyday work and laugh at themselves. The company encourages employees to do things differently, in a little unconventional way, so that the employees can think outside the box and be creative. Over the years, this has come in the form of over-the-top Nerf gun battles, themed new hire parades, and even Tutu Tuesdays.
Zappos former CEO Tony Hsieh says that ‘fun and weirdness’ make employees more engaged with the work, and the company as a whole becomes innovative. It builds spirit, breaks down barriers among employees, and improves communication. It helps in creating the community.
The company “Method” also has several programs to encourage fun in the workplace. There is a day of food-fight, a day of showing a weird mustache design, a day of crazy costumes, a day of Ping-Pong competition. The employees have the freedom to modify the interior of their place and make it weird.
While hiring new employees, Method brand asks three questions. One of the questions is, “How will you help keep Method weird?”.
To bring the culture alive, Airbnb encourages frequent, fun meetings among its employees — birthday celebrations, anniversaries, baby showers, creatively themed events, new launches, business achievement celebrations, cookie time Tuesdays, new-hire tea time, hosted bar, human tunnels, and other rituals. Airbnb’s culture motivates employees to think up crazy ideas to fight monotony and have fun.
Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky says — Those functions and rituals had not only brought fun to the workplace but also strengthened the bonds between the people. Every person feels that he/she is part of a big community.
Great brands find a way to add fun and little weirdness to their culture. Being formal all the time seems to be boring and uncreative.
Studies show that fun at the workplace improves an employee’s physical engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement in his tasks. The quality of work improves. Employee’s life also gets better.
Workplace fun has a positive effect on employee’s creativity, innovation, work performance, and organizational commitment.
Tews writes in his research paper that workplace fun positively affects employees' job satisfaction, commitment, creativity, energy, inter-relationship behavior, and productivity and negatively affects absenteeism, anxiety, emotional exhaustion, turnover, and burnout.
Workplace fun has made employees have abundant energy. It helped them to take on more challenging tasks.
PROACTIVE — Research shows that workplace fun has made employees take ownership in revamping work procedures, bringing in new structures, and suggesting process improvements.
ALTRUISM — Karl and Peluchette(2006) wrote in their research paper, “When people are put in a good mood by an event, they tend to be more altruistic and more likely to help others.” Such altruistic behaviors tend to prolong the good mood. Helping colleagues also enhance teamwork and encourage reciprocal behavior from others. People help each other to accomplish work tasks. Studies also show that altruistic employees have extended their generosity to helping consumers. The customer service jumped in leaps and bounds. Enhanced customer experience forced users to become brand believers than brand loyalists.
TRUST — Trust between management and employees plays a pivotal role in building a sustainable business/brand. It is an essential part of organizational culture.
Trust is built by the presence of positive feelings between management and employees. And workplace fun is a crucial source of positive feelings in an employee’s mind. Studies show that trust in management improves based on the levels of fun at the workplace. Employees also respect managers who provide a fun workplace.
AUTONOMY — Management that encourages a fun culture tends to relinquish some control to employees. It further improves the trust between them. Autonomy makes people think that they are valued and have self-worth. The employees would feel that they have plenty of freedom to use their talents. Freedom encourages employees to take risks. It stimulates creativity and invigorates experimentation. It further helps an employee to grow professionally and personally. He or she would prefer to stay longer in the organization.
THINK LIKE OWNERS — When employees trust their management, they are more likely to be satisfied with their own work. They take up more challenging tasks. They begin to think and act like owners. Owners, real owners, don’t have to be told what to do — they can figure it out for themselves. They take additional responsibilities and initiatives. They don’t make excuses nor blame others for their failures and are self-motivated. Companies with owners, not employees, become flexible. They can respond instantaneously to changes in the business environment and its needs.
WORKPLACE FUN GUIDELINES/TIPS
Fluegge defines Workplace fun as “any social, interpersonal, or task activities at work of playful or humorous nature which provide an individual with amusement, enjoyment, or pleasure.”
Let’s see a few guidelines for fun activities —
- Plester and Hutchison classify workplace fun into three forms — Managed fun, organic fun, and task fun. 1) Managed Fun means officially packaged fun that is deliberately organized by the company to meet strategic objectives. Avoid it as much as possible. 2) Organic Fun — A phenomenon that occurs naturally with individuals. A leader has to create an environment where organic fun thrives. It includes hiring the right people. 3) Task Fun — The work itself has fun components in it. The management should actively encourage employees to build elements of fun into the job themselves.
- Design activities for having fun and not for team building.
- Employees should be empowered to think up crazy ideas to bring enjoyment and pleasure into the work environment themselves. The management’s job is to provide necessary support and resources.
- Encourage employees’ informal gatherings after work with immediate supervisors. Such meetings break the communication barriers between them. It drives the supervisor/manager to care for his employee — Caring helps him give candid feedback. Employee performance improves in leaps and bounds.
- Bolton & Houlihan writes, “One critical thing to remember is that not all employees like to have fun at work, especially when it is a packaged official fun in which all employees are ‘supposed’ to participate.” Participating in fun activities should be voluntary and not forced. Respect everyone’s likes/dislikes.
- As much as possible, avoid fun activities that involve a day out during a weekend.
- Celebrate small wins and little successes.
- Encourage Socializing at the workplace — A right environment that encourages employees to socialize with coworkers strengthens the quality of workplace relationships. Studies also show that socialization has improved collaboration, communication, and candidness among employees, resulting in higher productivity. It also prevents mistrust and unhealthy competition among people. It’s beneficial both to the company and the employee. Kim Scott writes, “Some companies put a lot of effort into bringing employees together outside of the office. While retreats and parties can be productive if people on your team really want them, it is best to remember that mostly you get to know people you work with on the job, every day, as an integrated part of the work rhythm, not at the annual holiday party. Spending time with people from work in a more relaxed setting, without the pressure of work deadlines, can be a good way to build relationships. Meeting each other’s families, walking together, picnics — When management introduces these events, it would feel both obligatory and forced. You are already spending a lot of hours every day with your colleagues and direct reports. Use that time to build relationships.”
- The company has to pay for at least half of practically any activities that people want to do together.
- Encourage people to set up clubs based on shared common interests.
- Pay for food and drink for those who host potluck dinners at their houses.
- Have a common house where employees can host events and celebrations.
- Like Bill Campbell, add fun to meetings.
- Allow people to customize their place of work in creative and weird ways. It allows people to take pride in their work. Organize a day where employees can invite their mothers, fathers, wives, and children to come in and see their working places.
- Share stories of your employees throughout the organization and also to your customers.
- Keep Them Crowded — The design of the work environment should force interaction between people. Jonathan Rosenberg writes, “When you visit Google, you will find a series of cubicles that are crowded, messy, and a petri dish for creativity.” He adds, “Your coworkers should be nearby. When you spin around and wave your arms, you should hit someone. You cannot have a conversation over your phone without coworkers hearing you.” Jonathan adds that offices should be designed to maximize energy and interactions, not for isolation and status. Crowded offices brim with hectic energy. Workplace Fun thrives when people interact more with each other. At the same time, employees should always have the option to retire to a quiet place for creative brainstorming or for personal reasons.
Studies show that Workplace Fun ends up being a win-win for everyone. Employees become more engaged in the work that they do. People become more empathetic, resulting in genuine relationships, better communication, and trust between people.
Effects of Workplace Fun on Employee Behaviors: Focused on Generation Y in the Hospitality Industry by Young Gin Choi, Junehee Kwon, Wansoo Kim.
Finding Fun in Work: The effect of workplace fun on taking charge and job engagement by Büşra Müceldilia, Oya Erdila.
Have you experienced fun in the workplace? — An empirical study of workplace fun, trust-in-management, and job satisfaction by Simon C.H. Chan and Wai-ming Mak.
A Study on Relationship between Workplace Fun culture and Job Satisfaction among IT Professionals by Dr. B.Vimala, A.Jerina Bee.
How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company by Bo Burlingham and Jack Stack.