Does having fun motivate employees?

Do you have fun at work? Does it benefit you and does it benefit your company? These are some of the questions considered in Bright HR’s report ‘It pays to play’. The survey of over 2,000 UK employees aimed to give greater insight into the impact of having fun at work and was conducted with help from Professor Sir Cary Cooper and his team from psychological wellbeing consultants Robertson Cooper.

The survey tells us that the majority of employees value ‘fun’. It also tells us that the definition of fun is very varied. For some employees, it’s non-work activities like social events and games that matter. For some it’s Dress Down Friday. For others, rather worryingly, it’s clocking off. There are gender differences about exactly what fun looks like. There are generational differences too. The report suggests millennials expect fun to be a core part of their working lives more than any other demographic. 79% of 16 to 24 year old’s rated the importance of fun at work as very or moderately important compared to 56% of 55 to 60 year old’s.

None of this is that much of a surprise. Workplaces differ and so do the people within them. Definitions of fun will vary from person to person because a lot of it comes down to personality and circumstances. And in the same way that people would be likely to say yes if asked if they should have more time off or money, odds are they’ll say yes to having more fun at work. But is it right to assume that more fun is something organisations must ‘implement’ in order to make the working environment a better one? Is a focus on fun actually likely to cause as many issues as it solves?

Does having fun at work actually matter?

Why exactly is it important to have ‘fun’ in work? If you’re talking about the colleague to colleague banter that arises naturally as part of healthy relationships then great. We’re all for that. But do organisations really have to go down the route of enforced fun? We need to think less about ‘fun’ and instead focus on helping employees thrive in an environment that’s supportive of their personality and personal needs. One person’s fun is likely to be another’s worst nightmare.

That nightmare could mean getting the Twister board out and having a laugh with colleagues. If you have a list of personal issues or something simple like know one to cover last minute childcare issues a game of twister is just about the last thing you want to hear. I would argue most people don’t need fun to engage at work. They need ways to help release stress and balance the demands from outside work, even if it’s only brief.

Right at the heart of that lies the ability to understand what matters to individuals and it’s here managers can play a vital role. Knowing what matters to the people within your team and knowing how you can alleviate pressure on them plays a big part in keeping them engaged and motivated at work. Fun is just one method that will suit some people. As this article about creative and cost effective engagement strategies observes, one of the most effective things you can do to engage and motivate your staff is to be humble, observant and listen.

Being flexible and supportive of individual needs means investing time working out what motivates and matters to each employee, and acting on it. It might well be “fun” activities like providing a pool table or a departmental night out. It might be letting an employee relax by listen to music as they work. But It could also be nothing to do with fun, like giving an employee a perk to take an hour off at the drop of a hat.