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How to Have Fun at Work

How to Have Fun at Work

Fun is missing.

— Manager

This Manager’s astute observation proves that things are not as bad in the workplace as we have been told. At least some people are paying attention. It’s not easy to realize that something we’ve taken for granted is a terrible idea. Like building resentment towards a thankless job.

The same goes for work drudgery. The fact that many people put up with it does not make it okay. I don’t know what kind of work this manager does. But let’s pretend it’s the most monotonous, unpleasant task there is. Can I get some suggestions?

Here’s one: garbage collector. The guy who rides in the back of the slow-moving truck and flips over giant bins filled with other people’s refuse. It may be the most necessary job in the city, but I would be hard pressed to call it “fun.”

That was until I watched a video that proved me wrong. The video was shot in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It was a typical nightlife scene in the French Quarter. Narrow historic streets filled with tourists and musicians. Jazz blasting from every corner. Suddenly, the camera cuts to a garbage truck rolling down Bourbon Street. Three men jump off the truck and dance in unison as they perform their duties. The crowd around them goes wild.

Apparently, these men did not resent having to do dirty work while everyone else was partying. Not only that, but they took advantage of their job to arrive in style and become the crowd’s favorites.

Or how about a flight attendant? There is a moment in every flight when no one envies a flight attendant. It happens during takeoff when the attendant has to give “an important safety demonstration.”

However, if you have flown Southwest Airlines, you know that their flight attendants don’t bother to pretend that the passengers aren’t ignoring them. Instead, they insert unexpected jokes into the safety demo. And they, too, get lots of attention and even applause.

One task that is never fun is meandering through phone menu options while looking for help from a living breathing human. Almost every time I call customer service, my dopamine levels plunge to dangerous lows. I nearly lose my will to resolve my problem—just the outcome they are looking for, I’m sure.

One time I called GoDaddy. I felt my heart sink as I heard the familiar “help us get you to the right representative by choosing one of the following options.” Option one was, of course, sales. The young female voice informed me that I should also press one if I wanted to talk about my business goals. Then cheerfully added: “Awesome!”

I had no desire to discuss my business goals with GoDaddy. But their phone system somehow tricked my brain into releasing a little dopamine. I listened to the rest of the options, and while I hesitated, the voice prompted me to press six to talk about anything else, including my cats.

I didn’t think the joke about the cats was uproariously funny. I don't have cats. But it came at the end of the menu, giving me more time to pick the right option. Again, because someone was at least trying to have fun, I felt less uptight and enjoyed my brief conversation with the rep.

I thought of the people who recorded the menu options for GoDaddy. They must like their work. Maybe they even rotate the jokes every so often to give heavy users extra comic relief. Without their light touch, this would have been just another mundane to-do.

Now let’s think of a job that is glamorous and creative. What about a Hollywood costume designer? Wouldn’t it be fun to be one of them?

No costume designer in history has been more successful than Edith Head. For her work, Edith has received eight Academy Awards. That’s more Oscars than any woman has won in any category.

Edith got her first designer job at Paramount Pictures in 1924. She was twenty-six, and the only clothing item the studio trusted her to design were cowboy chaps. This lasted for several years until Edith was promoted to the “grandmother class.” She could then dress various supporting cast members, frequently elderly relatives of the lead characters.

Only in 1932 did Edith get to create a wardrobe for a leading lady: Mae West in She Done Him Wrong. The film became a box-office success, in part because of Edith Head’s eye-catching designs. From there she outfitted virtually every top female star in Hollywood.

Edith continued to design costumes until her death in 1981. Her last project, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner, came out after she died. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6504 Hollywood Boulevard.

By all accounts, Edith Head had more fun on the job than most mortals. Yet for the first eight years of her career, she did the work the top designers did not want to do. Even as she gained recognition, she remained in the shadow of her boss, Travis Banton, until he resigned in 1938.

That’s probably more shitwork than most of us will tolerate. When Edith became a star, her colleagues said her most valuable skill was keeping her mouth shut. Edith was a close friend to many of her famous clientele. Being able to keep secrets boosted and lengthened her career. But what fun is that?

My point is that fun is essential, but you can’t always count on your job or the people around you to supply it. Sometimes you have to bring your own fun. If you are a manager, you carry a double responsibility for keeping yourself in high spirits and protecting your employees from unnecessary drudgery and fun-killing pressure.

_____

If you like to have fun, you might like my book, because it makes fun of things you take too seriously.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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