|Fun at work
It doesn't take much to fill an office with happy workers. All it takes is Emotional Intelligence and five little ingredients.
By John Bittleston, 24 Jan 2003
"My company must be the most boring in the world. Nobody ever smiles, there is no laughter. We arrive at the last possible moment and leave as early as we can. It is dull . What can I do?" This plea for help came from a reader, clearly at the end of a bad day, perhaps a lousy week, maybe a dreary year, even possibly a thoroughly unsatisfactory career. I have heard the same story so often that I thought I should tell you why it is completely unnecessary.
We spend so much of our lives at work and our jobs are so critically important to our sense of self-worth that for an employer to make your job a bore is a sin of the worst sort. And yet, bosses do it all the time.
"We are not here to enjoy ourselves. We are here to make money."
How often have you heard that? It's the cry of the desperate, unthinking person.
Desperate, because the boss clearly thinks that making more money is somehow incompatible with having fun. The evidence is quite the contrary.
Unthinking, because he has not worked out that happy employees are much more productive than unhappy ones. It's not a proposition by Einstein, is it? Has that person never heard the expression "laugh and the world laughs with you"?
Are you a boss? Are you reading this and saying to yourself: "I'm not convinced"? If so, you are taking the same view as someone who says he doesn't like a particular food even though he has never tried it. Please try what I am recommending and if the recipe doesn't work, tell me. Because it worked very well for me. And it has worked well for many, many others.
Are you an employee frustrated by the lack of fun in your job and your organisation? Are you saying to yourself: "That's all very well but I can't see my boss trying to make life at work enjoyable"? If so, you are giving up too easily. At the very least you can print out this article and leave it on the boss' desk.
What's the secret of making work fun? No secret. Just a little ordinary Emotional Intelligence.
The first ingredient is discipline . Doesn't sound much like fun, does it? But without it you can't have a fun business. Very few rules, strictly and fairly enforced. That's what I mean by discipline. Re-read these vital seven words: Very few rules, strictly and fairly enforced.
In the Navy they call it a "tight" ship. That means no slack. Everyone is fully employed. Everyone is making his or her contribution. This does not depend on detailed job descriptions. It depends on everybody working towards the same goal - the good of the organisation. That's the only important job description.
The second ingredient is civility . Oh, dear. You weren't expecting that either, were you? Yes, just common old politeness is a vital factor in making your business a happy place to work. That doesn't mean that people don't get scolded. If they do something wrong and they knew that it was wrong, of course they get scolded. But, politely scolded. And after they have taken the scolding, a smile and a shake of the hand.
Homes and workplaces are the two areas most vulnerable to rudeness. It's all because of familiarity. Someone once said that familiarity breeds contempt. It shouldn't, but it can. To avoid it doing so is worth a good deal of effort. Treat each person as though you had just met him for the first time. You'll get the idea.
The third ingredient is lighten up . Making money is a serious business. So is bringing up babies. But you don't hang around a baby with a long face looking as though the bailiff was at the door. You try to teach the baby; to keep it interested; to make it happy; to distract it from unpleasant things that will upset it. You try to make life for the baby fun.
Employees are not babies. But they are human beings. They have problems, worries, loves, hates, just like their colleagues and their boss. Whether you are a boss or employee, you must put aside your own worries and try to help other people with theirs. You will find it very rewarding if you do.
One of my children, who was by then married with children of his own, fell on hard times financially just as there was a downturn in the stock market. He was smiling from ear to ear. "I'm so fortunate," he said, "As I have no money I don't have to worry about how much it's being devalued." You can't get more philosophical than that.
The fourth ingredient is laughter . There are plenty of good, clean stories around. As a boss I note them and keep them ready for when we have a few moments of relaxation. They keep the ship afloat when we have troubles and they make the good times better.
I'm going to let you into a secret. It's now 10 years since I sold my Singapore business and left it. In the last two weeks, I have had two former colleagues asking me to come back and make it fun again. Ten years on. I don't know whether it impresses you but it sure as hell impresses me.
The fifth ingredient is care . No business is fun if the company, the chief executive or your immediate boss doesn't care about you. They must care deeply about what happens in your life, not just at work but at home, when you are ill, when you are down. They must care even after you have left the company. They must never stop caring.
Mix my five ingredients together, stir gently, relax and work hard at it. You don't have a fun day out with the family without a great deal of effort. Put the same effort into having a fun business.
You will make a fortune. Guaranteed.
Trust me, I'm a fun CEO. John Bittleston