Having fun is serious business. Think of it as the funky roadside attraction that helps people blow off steam, connect with one another, and hey, even get a little weird. After chatting with some stellar small businesses across the country, making work a blast was something nearly every company had in common. It’s no shocker that MTV found that nine out of 10 Millennials said they wanted their work to be a fun environment — somewhere they could be themselves, and where their team acted like a second family.
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So how can you get more goofiness to flow through your workplace? Here are some ideas from our silly (and successful) pros around the country:
Use levity as a way to promote balance
Paws and Stripes, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit, deals with some heavy stuff while working to pair veterans with service dogs. One day they may be talking to someone with suicidal thoughts, and the next they’re trying to counsel someone with life-altering injuries. Owner Lindsey Stanek is acutely aware of how choppy things can get, which is why she makes a valiant effort to fold fun into every part of the day.
Propped up on every desk is a legit, orange-foam Nerf gun, enabling the team to have daily 10-minute battles with each other. Director of Administration, Becca Anderson, says traditions like that allow everyone to unwind and recalibrate. Paws and Stripes has “a culture of ease, camaraderie, and fun,” explains Becca. “We can jump out of our seriousness for a few minutes, and then we jump back and actually get more engaged in what we’re doing.”
At Albuquerque-based construction firm, Jeebs & Zuzu, the owners make time for fun by allowing employees to take a break during the hectic summer season. Owner Dave Hickman told us about their “Movie Fridays” tradition, which helps people relax from all the non-stop work. In addition to chilling out at the movies, they also occasionally break in the middle of the day and give people five bucks to go to Target, load up their carts with toys, and then play with them together. “It’s an easy and cheap way to get people out of the office and get silly together,” explains Dave.
Workplace fun for less than $10 per person
- Buy Nerf guns for the whole team (and encourage daily battles)
- Have everyone go on mandatory “recess” at a local park
- Treat the team to an afternoon movie matinee
- Give employees $5 to spend on toys and then schedule a group play session
Have it reflect the quirks of your culture
At Perks in Little Rock, one of their core values is simply “laughing.” The software company was recently named one of the “Best Places to Work in Arkansas,” so they know what it takes to create an atmosphere people love. Part of their branding includes little cartoon characters called Perkies that represent actual employees. The graphics team creates caricatures of each teammate and then surprises them with their illustrated doppelgänger slapped onto a coffee cup. Finance Director, Tracy Cooper, explains, “It’s a constant source of fun and excitement.”
Use fun as a chance to connect and learn
Fun activities makes people learn more, says a study from The Journal of Vocational Behavior. When companies swirl in get-togethers during the day, it opens up more opportunities for informal learning. According to research, these benefits include “self-reflection, experimenting with new ways of performing work, interacting with others, and reading job-relevant material.”
Paws and Stripes sure knows that fun and education go hand in hand. Once a month during their Friday training sessions, one teammate chooses a team-building activity they all have to participate in. In the past, they’ve played Pictionary, Heads Up!, Dubsmash, built a structure out of raw spaghetti and marshmallows, and other “ridiculous stuff,” says owner Lindsey Stanek. It casts a new light on all the “boring stuff” they have to go over, and gives everyone a chance to get to know each other better.
Try not to isolate anyone
It’s important to remember that not everyone jives with every fun activity. Case in point: Jeebs & Zuzu used to have a day where each new hire had to wear a silly hat. It was a nice celebration, Dave remembers, because it relayed the message that, “We’re all a little weird, and we really want to embrace everyone, and have them be a part of things.” While that tradition worked great for the office staff at his firm, the construction workers weren’t digging it. They asked Dave why he was wasting their time. “So we stopped it,” he says.
Jeebs & Zuzu explicitly attempts not to create two different cultures for their two teams. “We’re trying to bring people together.” Dave changed things up, and is now focusing on establishing fun traditions that are still unique, but don’t isolate any specific group.
Use it to surprise folks
“I am a big prankster and I believe in having a good time,” says Tom Hand, owner of Subculture Corsets in Jacksonville, Florida. One day, Tom expressed his appreciation for the team in a rather magical way. He shut down their retail store and told the team they were all going to an important tradeshow in Orlando. At breakfast, he did the big reveal. “Okay I lied to you,” he said. “We’re not going to a tradeshow today. We’re going to Disney World.” A few employees hadn’t been before and even burst into tears. The Subculture team was then able to slip on their mouse ears and have an amazing day at the park. But the day was more than just good old-fashioned fun — it showed the team that their employer cared about them as deeply as family.
“Yeah, there are times that we have to put our nose to the grindstones and take care of issues,” says Tom. “But I just believe in joking around and having a good time while you’re at work. It doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.”