Door chimes rang out through the humming noise in a bustling kitchen atmosphere and for a moment, the background noise settled to silence as the team paused momentarily in anticipation of their co-worker’s arrival for the start of their shift. Upon her appearance at the back door, the team burst into joyful, wild applause, the kind you would expect if they had just discovered a cure for covid or solved world hunger. For us, this was an everyday occurrence for our team in those days. Let me share with you how this happened.

As a leader, I was aware that business suffered, the clients suffered, and the bottom line suffered when the people on my team were not happy and having fun. But having fun at work was a little unorthodox and even frowned upon by some onlookers (even today). It was 2005, and we had just opened our first location as partners of a restaurant franchise group in Northern Alberta called Original Joe’s. We had decided to employ the strategy of having as much fun as humanly possible during every shift. This strategy was derived from a simple value for us, how fleeting time can be.

The average person will spend around 70,000 hours of their life at work! Now, consider what it would mean in your life to love your time at work vs. dreading it. Think about the ramifications those two scenarios have on your outlook in life and your ability to enjoy time away from work. Not only that, a study conducted by Canadian HR Reporter offers evidence that companies employing this strategy of fun in the workplace outperformed their competition by an average of a whopping 20% when compared in similar industries. Generations previous have been working for the weekends. When we reference the statistic of 70,000 hours at work, that means that philosophy indicates you are potentially living a substantial portion of your life in a state of unhappiness. Woah.

Imagine if your job as a leader focused on sparking more innovation, driving culture, and having fun, rather than babysitting to ensure everyone meets their job requirements for the shift. That’s a massive difference in value add for any company from their executive team. Creating a fun workplace is a vital role of any leader as it provides the fuel for the engine of their organization. A fuel that will feed their heart and cascade to those they work with in meaningful ways. Fun at work creates infinite energy so people can continue doing what they do best, using your business to leave the world a little better than they found it.

So why don’t we all employ this strategy that seems so simple? There are various reasons, but primarily traditional leadership models point to an outdated perspective of professionalism, which gets in the way of the vulnerability required for fun and connection in the workplace.

Knowing just how vital fun is in the workplace, here are some simple strategies any industry can employ to allow this to become part of your success formula.

1. Play with the role traditionalism has in your workplace and how you view it as a leader. Consider what could change if you encouraged workplace friendships and relationships to flourish. We now know the staggering amount of time you will all spend at work. So why not spend that time with people you LOVE? This accomplishes something of incredible significance; the time we spend means more, is more enjoyable, and to top it off, the team camaraderie is off the charts as everyone cheers for each other’s success. This means no one gets left behind. People feel comfortable sharing their unique skills and ideas, which leads to innovation and a level of productivity that will leave your competitors wondering how your organization seems to be on a rocket ship while theirs is still towing horse and wagon.

2. Another strategy to creating a fun and connective workplace is to promote, organize and encourage events outside of the workplace. Now, this is not meant to be a social drinking club (while it can be from time to time, we all need to blow off a little steam). I suggest getting your team involved in healthy activities. Encourage exercise clubs, find discounts to gym memberships, sponsor rec league teams that your people may want to be a part of. These activities will often encourage our people to try something new and bond with their co-workers over the adventure, vulnerability, and ultimately fun, which comes part n parcel with trying some of these things with others.

3. Don’t skip the opportunity to celebrate your people; this has been a big one for us. Going over the top for your team at parties will be perhaps one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your people. It highlights the level of gratitude you have for what they do day in and day out and to many people, this kind of fun is the ultimate thank you. Many times, A-players have sought us out because of our legendary reputation for spoiling our people when the time is right. This could easily be your reputation as well.

4. Recognize the fun and accomplishments your people have in their lives, during meetings bringing forward personal achievements that have occurred inside and outside the organization. This vital piece of time spent in a meeting accomplishes two incredible pushes on the flywheel when it comes to moving your culture forward. First, it showcases to people in your organization that there is a value placed on fun and accomplishing things in our lives. Second, it inspires others to go out and do more for themselves, making them happier, more connected people and we all know those people are much more fun to work with than the office curmudgeon.

Of course, there are many great strategies for having fun at work. What is required is an open heart, a willingness to be vulnerable, and as a leader to go first. The benefits of fun in the workplace are vast. Here are the two that have been the most impactful for me in my career.

1. It is excellent for the sanity of a leader. Traditional management styles can often turn into full-time babysitting jobs, ensuring no one is slacking off and everyone is meeting the minimum requirements of their job expectations. Teams who are connected and having fun will surprisingly and often hold one another accountable to the expectations of meeting and exceeding the standards laid out before them. Now instead, could you imagine if your job was simply to come up with a few innovative ideas with your team, allow them to find the route, and be their biggest cheerleader along the way? This is where we truly get to lead rather than manage people, being a pivotal part of your organization rather than being the policeman or babysitter.

2. I have seen first-hand that this also leads to top-level recruiting and low turnover. This is a big one, especially in today’s world of labor shortages coming out of the pandemic. As I am sure you know, training a new team member is one of the costliest things you can do, and high turnover will blow apart your organization’s bottom line no matter what industry you are involved in.

At Original Joe’s, we have an entire wall decorated with photos of people who have been in our organization for over ten years, this wall currently represents over two hundred years of collective tenure, and the average turnover rate in the hospitality industry is six months! The savings to our bottom line have been exponential, and I cannot even begin to imagine what the costs of turnover may have been without the tenure of those team members.

When fun is encouraged, people feel safe.

This is where your job as a leader comes in to build the infrastructure for fun to set in. Years later, this first location I referenced at the article’s opening now has a wall decorated in awards as the top-performing restaurant in a franchise group of well over 100 restaurants. It continues to boast profitable numbers over a lifespan that is now 16 years and counting. It has become a staple in the community of Terwillegar where it was grown as a gathering point for friends, neighbors, business partners, coaches, teachers and many more. But most importantly, it serves as a constant reminder, fun at work is one of the most pivotal investments a leader can make when it comes to building a sustainable, profitable, and meaningful business.

How much fun are you infusing into your team and workplace?

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