Work Can Be Fun

by Faye D. Fischer

The summer is in full swing and here at the Utah State Library our director gave us a gift to boost our morale and help celebrate the season. We received some awesome library swag, a tumbler and mug marked with the library logo and the phrase “work can be fun.” This is a central tenet of Chaundra Johnson’s tenure as library director. But to be completely honest, work didn’t feel fun at all that week. I had missed several days for a family funeral, the building was closed due to a water main break and had no running water, but I was drowning in the work load of the fiscal year end. How could I have fun at work?

They say if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. I love the sentiment behind that quote, but struggle to accept it at face value. There will be bad days even in the best of circumstances. It can be alarmingly easy to forget the reasons why we chose our profession or the moments of great success and satisfaction we have experienced. Especially when we are in the middle of complex problems and nagging deadlines. Perhaps like the Grinch who discovered the “more” behind the garish façade of Christmas, it was time for me to explore the deeper meaning of fun. The Collins online English Dictionary defined fun in a unique way. “You refer to an activity or situation as fun if you think it is pleasant and enjoyable and it causes you to feel happy.” It expands the concept of fun to more than a fleeting moment or an involuntary response, more than a temporary euphoria or transitory amusement. Real fun is a decision; a conglomerate of experiences that ultimately lead to deeper happiness.

So what makes work fun? Having fun at work doesn’t mean putting on the rose colored glasses and expunging those parts of the job that are in fact work and by definition laborious. Nor does it mean that you should be constantly entertained or expect every moment to deliver laughs. It means you have learned how to make the monotonous efforts that lead to success worthwhile.

Corporate philosophers have identified a few crucial aspects of a fun work environment. Individual recognition/differentiation and strong, purposeful teamwork which at first may seem in opposition but in reality are codependent concepts. In his book Joy at Work; A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job Dennis W. Bakke defined “The key to fun at work is the personal freedom to take actions and make decisions using individual skills and talents” (p. 55). His ice cream related analogy deliciously illustrates the importance of celebrating individuation:

“The kinds of teams I am suggesting are more like banana splits than milkshakes. Milkshakes blend the various flavors of ice cream, toppings, milk, and other ingredients into one undifferentiated dessert. In banana splits, each scoop of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream, along with the bananas and the toppings, remain separate until eaten. In a banana-split team, individuals play special roles and maintain their identities. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole” (p. 94-95). 

Would your work be more fun if you embraced your role in the recipe?

Daniel Coyle focuses on defining how individuals can successfully work together in his book The Culture Code. He studied several effective groups to identify the elements of their achievement.

“When I visited groups, I noticed a distinct pattern of interaction. The pattern was located not in the big things but in the little moments of social connection…I made a list:

  • Close physical proximity
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High level of mixing
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Humor, laughter
  • Small attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)” (p. 8).

How can social connections increase the fun of your work day?

Not every day is a day at Disneyland, but real fun at work can be found when we commit to using our specific talents towards a meaningful and purposeful goal that can be achieved when we all work together. And rid ourselves of the archaic idea that fun is something outside our control.

Something Coyle discovered in his research is important to remember, “Here’s a surprising fact about successful cultures: many were forged in moments of crisis” (p. 227).  Let the difficult moments define you and come out of the crucible stronger (and more fun).

We hope that Chaundra’s commitment to a fun work place overflows to all of you. We have seen the benefits at the Utah State Library. Work truly can be fun!  

Coyle, D. (2019). The culture code. Random House UK.

Bakke, D. (2005). Joy at work: A revolutionary approach to fun on the job. Penguin Group.

Both these titles can be found in the Utah State Library collection.