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     Creating a Fun Workplace

      When Hokey Pokey is “What’s it All About”


By Jody Urquhart


Traditionally, work is not supposed to be fun. On average, you spend 40 hours a week working - that’s 1,840 hours a year (if you remove holidays), or 86,840 hours in your working life. (These facts are meant to inform, not to depress you.) Why can’t our work be fun? The biggest argument against a “fun” workplace is that it’s not productive.


How Fun is Productive


Imagine a work world where people love their work environment, and they are calm, stress-free and happy all day long. People who are in good spirits are more likely to be productive. Their mental attitude produces increased oxygen, endorphins, and blood flow to the brain, which enables them to think more clearly and creatively. They are more relaxed, more accepting of others, and more likely to share their sense of humor. Laughter creates a bond that brings others together; people like to be with employees who are laughing and having fun. Creativity, intuition and flexibility are key to successful operation of organizations today. In stimulating environments, employees enjoy their time at work and they will also excel at work. Attracting customers is easier in an environment of hospitality. A fun workplace is not only more productive, but it attracts people and profits.


A Test: Is your Staff Suffering from Terminal Seriousness?


Scan your workplace and take note:


Do you regularly catch people laughing or smiling at work?

YES             NO


When something funny happens, do people stop and appreciate it?

YES             NO


Does your organization have fun activities at least monthly?

YES             NO


Do you have tools (fun giveaways, draws) to invite clients to participate in having fun in your environment?

YES             NO


Are managers usually optimistic and smiling at work?

YES             NO


If you answer no to two or more of these questions, your staff probably suffers from “terminal seriousness,” which is negatively affecting morale and productivity.



More Benefits of Humor in the Workplace


Dr. Norman Cousins said, "Laughter is an igniter of great expectations." Children laugh an average of 400 times a day and that number drops to only 15 times a day by the time people reach age 35. Preschoolers must know something we don’t. Laughter releases endorphins (a chemical 10 times more powerful than the pain-relieving drug morphine) into the body with the same exhilarating effect as doing strenuous exercise. Laughing increases oxygen intake, thereby replenishing and invigorating cells. It also increases the pain threshold, boosts immunity, and relieves stress.


Humor also levels the playing field to create an atmosphere that encourages honest dialogue, open communication, and increased risk taking. Creating more equality in power or control shows people respect and builds pride in their work.


This is just a sampling of the benefits of having fun in your workplace. Hopefully now you are convinced you could use a “fun injection” in your own place of employment. Read on to find out how to get started.


How Humor is Created


Laughter and humor are different. The physical experience of laughter comes as a result of humor, so humor usually precedes laughter although it doesn’t have to. Studies show that you can “fake it until you make it” and have the same physiological effects as a real laugh. If you suffer from terminal seriousness (or have some staff members that do), just start laughing and smiling for no reason at all and you will start to reap the rewards.


One theory on how humor is created is called the Incongruity Theory. This theory suggests that we laugh when two incongruent things come together unexpectedly. The laughter is the “Aha! I got it, aren’t I clever” response to the humor. A good joke leads you in one direction and then turns abruptly in a completely opposite and unexpected direction. In an instant, the mind bounces from one reality to the next.


An example:

I went to an unfinished furniture store and they sold me a tree.

What make this joke funny is it leads you in one direction and then suddenly takes you in another.


Humor and the Unexpected in the Workplace


If humor is about the surprising or unexpected, how does this concept help you incorporate humor into your workplace? Humorous surprises will elicit fun. Imagine showing up for work wearing a clown nose and handing them out for others to enjoy. It would be fun to order a surprise pizza for lunch. It would be a pleasant surprise for some managers to tell a joke or smile once in awhile. Be on the look out for ways to do the unexpected.


You can also use the Incongruity Theory to change perspective by taking the tedium of daily issues and lightening them up with an unexpected twist.


EXERCISE: Take a stressful issue in your workplace and challenge it with humor. Have your employees exaggerate and look for the surprising and funny in everyday challenging events. Stress usually comes from your perspective and a negative perspective may undergo an adjustment when you introduce humor.


Thirteen Steps to Creating a Fun Workplace:


1)  Give up the notion that professionalism means

being serious all the time. It's possible to take yourself

lightly and still be competent and productive. Start to

promote the benefits of humor at work.


2)  Define what fun is in your workplace and what it is

not (E.g. harmful humor, off color jokes, sexual humor,

humor defacing the organization)


      3)  Organize a “Fun Committee” for dreaming up fun “stuff” to do during and after work.


4)     Add fun to meetings. Bring in fun things such as Nerf balls, a basketball and hoop, or party blowers. Start a meeting with a humorous story or joke.


5)     Collect and share your favorite cartoons and jokes. Create a Joke Board or a Humor Newsletter. Looks for tools to disseminate fun and funny things daily.


6)     Let customers know you are a fun company. Do something just for fun (organize fun customer events, dress for fun, share funny things with customers) and give employees tools to create a fun relationship with customers (stickers, candy for children, dog biscuits for dogs, humorous buttons with the company logo). This makes work more fun for employees and it strengthens the relationship with customers.  Dick Snow of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream says,  “We believe that we’re in the entertainment business and selling ice cream is just a part of what we do.  In our stores the counter is our stage and the customers are our audience.”  Disneyland has the same kind of approach. Employees are part of an entertainment experience, and they aren’t just doing a job.


7)     Gather your co-workers for the “Joy of Work” hour. Everyone must talk about something good at work. Take turns telling stories about the things that make work a joy. Each person should contribute ideas on how to make work more fun.


8)     Have a fun recognition program. Fun is not a reward for performance, but can be a way to encourage employees to perform. For example, you could create “games” out of productive activity…who can motivate the most patients in a hospital to smile and say something funny to the head nurse. Playful and goal-oriented fun is best.


9)     Respond to fun when it happens. Funny things occur all the time, but if you obsessed with left-brain analytical thought, you might find it hard to stop and respond. Natural spontaneous humor is a blessing. Stop and take a moment to give employees and customers an opportunity to take time to see the fun in the event.


10) Commit to being fun and it will change your approach to work. Start slowly with a few activities and communicate your desire to create a more relaxed workplace. Don’t expect things to turn around over night. 


11) Put fun things and activities in the staff room. This allows people to take their mind off of the seriousness of work for a short period, so they come back to work with a more positive and balanced perspective.


12) Encourage staff to leave work at work at the end of the day. Employees shouldn’t be so consumed with work that it affects their family life and leisure activities. Find fun ways for employees to “unload” at the end of the day or week. Create a ritual like writing a “to do” list and posting it on the board. By doing this, you commit to not thinking about the things on the list until the next day.


13) Encourage employees to develop their own style of having fun. A nurse anesthetist at a hospital in Michigan often sings to his patients to help them relax prior to surgery. Patients have appreciated this so much that they have told family and friends about the experience. It is not uncommon now for the hospital staff to get requests for “The Singing Anesthesiologist” when they are scheduling their surgery.



Remember that employees create fun in the workplace, not managers. It’s a manager’s job to orchestrate fun activities (and not get in the way of them).

Even bad news can be delivered in a more fun way to lessen the negativity of the information. If you need to remind employees or customers with signs, then word them in a fun and humorous way. To remind employees to fill out their time sheets, instead of posting a negative sign such as,  “If you don’t fill out your time sheets you don’t get paid,” try wording it in a humorous way. “If you love your job so much you don’t want us to pay you, then don’t fill out your timesheet.”



Thirty-One Ways to Have Fun at Work


1)       Mini Golf in the office

2)       Have joy breaks. Stock the staff room with “fun” toys (Silly putty, Building

        blocks, Frisbees, Slinky)

3)       Create a humorous company salute

4)       Print fun greeting cards for employees to give to customers

5)       Charge late employees a small fine like $5, which goes to fun activities

6)       Plan office parties

7)       Wear fun clothes

8)       Have “Fun Awards”

9)       Pass out chocolate or homemade cookies

10)   Give Christmas gifts to employees

11)   Celebrate the seasons (Valentine cards, Hanukkah gifts, Christmas Carols,

        April Fools Jokes, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter egg hunt)

12)   Have a theme day. Encourage staff to dress up

13)   Have a masseuse provide shoulder massages for people at their


14)   Wash all employees’ cars in the parking lot

15)   Create and distribute fun stories from within the organization

16)   Charades

17)   Name rooms in your department after staff members

18)   Have employees bring photos of their children to work

19)   Photos of staff events

20)   Artwork

21)   Have an employee fun day

22)   Bring creative orientations to the business (i.e.- A Scavenger Hunt)

23)   Play office Jeopardy or Bingo

24)   Invent contests

25)   Bring Nerf balls, foam darts, a basketball hoop

26)   Keep a plastic bowling set

27)   Create a Fun List

28)   Offer relay Races

29)   Stage marshmallow fights

30)   Have a fun pass (this person is eligible to have fun by fill in activity)

31)   Make “Stop Being so Serious” awards





1. Fun is Productive.

2. Use the incongruity theory to inject humor into everyday stress-inducing events.

3. Decide if your staff suffers from terminal seriousness.

4. Define humor in your workplace.

5. Create a “Fun Committee.”

6. Incorporate at least five of the thirty-one ways to have fun at work.


Comments to: ido@idoinspire.com






About the author:


Jody Urquhart, a popular speaker and writer, is recognized in Canada, the United States and Europe, She has presented her signature topic, Joy of Work, to 65 organizations last year alone. Her monthly column on the same subject appears in over fifty trade journals. Jody is also an associate speaker for the Individual Development Organization in Vancouver where she works with Bill Clennan, the Dean of Canadian Speakers.


Jody holds diplomas in Professional Speaking and Writing from Mount Royal College and in Management and Marketing from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. She studied Management for three years at the University of Calgary. Her business experience includes management positions in both the banking and retail industries. Jody is a proud member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and holds the distinction of being one of its founding board members. Jody is the author of the book “ALL WORK & NO SAY TAKES THE PASSION AWAY”. To order your copy, or to discuss having Jody speak at your next meeting, feel free to email her at ido@idoinspire.com

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