We spend a significant part of our lives at work. Why spend it on something that’s not fun? Research suggests that fun has a positive impact on employee engagement, creativity, and retention. So how can you make your job more fun? That’s an excellent question! Find answers by reading this issue of Howe’s Now Monthly. Below we summarize a Harvard Business Review article that describes simple, actionable steps you can take to make each work day a bit more enjoyable.

 

Is having fun at work important?

Short answer: Yes!

Though fun at work is sometimes thought to be a distraction, research suggests that it has a positive impact on engagement, creativity, and purpose — increasing employee retention and reducing turnover. When we find tasks enjoyable, we’re more eager to dig in and complete them. When we make time for joy and laughter, we become resilient.

The authors carried out primary, qualitative research, interviewing hundreds of employees across industries and career stages in hopes of better understanding:

  1. How important is having fun at work to employees?
  2. What do people do to make their work more fun?
  3. Can those techniques be successfully emulated by others?

 

We found that while there are certain aspects of any job that are outside of our control, there are a number of things any employee can do to make work feel more fun and joyful. The biggest challenge (and opportunity) our interviews divulged is that the definition of “fun” varies widely from person to person, as do the techniques used to manifest it. The good news? Most of the ideas that our respondents shared can be easily adopted by others.

Given that different strategies work for different people, we are sharing four popular techniques taken from our research. Hopefully, one will resonate with you and your peers.

 

Gamify your tasks and celebrate your wins.

“If a project is large, I like to break it down into smaller tasks to make it more achievable. It’s fun to knock off smaller tasks (almost feels like a game!) and build momentum,” Laurie Donnelly, a learning and development specialist, told us.

When Laurie begins a new project, she numbers the tasks it will take to complete it (starting with the deadline). To make it into a game, she gives each task a deadline and sets a duration of time aside to focus on it. The goal is to finish the task by the deadline. If she “wins,” she celebrates with a reward, like making the time to go out for a swim or do a watercolor painting.

Carol Patton, a freelance writer we interviewed, also likes to break down her tasks into stages. Like Laurie, she rewards herself as soon as she checks an item off her list to make the work feel more exciting. “If I complete one portion of the task, I can take a walk, call a friend, or eat that Fudgsicle I’ve been eyeing in the freezer,” she said.

 

Make one small change.

Often a small change can give you a fresh perspective. For example, Katie Sheehan, a publishing marketing manager, described how simply changing the title of her “To-Do List” into a “Fun List” shifts her mindset from, “I need to check these things off today,” to “I’m going to have fun today.”

Sue Burch, a senior learning specialist, uses this strategy as well. “Technology is great,” she said. “However, crumpling paper is more satisfying than deleting [a digital document].” Sue puts challenging work tasks on post-it notes so that she can squish them into balls and toss them in the trash when a task is complete. It’s a small distinction, and a small action, but it brings a bit more joy into her day — and that makes all the difference.

 

Nothing beats music.

“The secret to my having more fun at work is to have those precious little ear buds in and some good jazz music playing,” Sharon Jordan-Evans, an author, told us.

To remove pressure from her work and make it fun, leadership advisor Hoodsa Ghazvinian does something similar. When working on challenging projects, she plays concert clips from her favorite artists in the background. “Singers are great screen players, and they share their fun and energy with their audiences. When I tune into that energy, I feel like the funnest, best version of myself. I feel full of courage, energy, and happiness.”

Laurie Donnelly also uses music from time-to-time, but as a form of encouragement. She listens to Yo-Yo Ma’s 2015 performance of Bach’s “Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites.” Yo-Yo Ma played the suites for nearly three hours, entirely by memory, with just one short intermission. She finds it inspiring to listen to and watch him perform so gracefully in front of an audience of 8,000, despite the daunting task he was executing. “As I listen to this when I work, I imagine that my hands are influenced by that same force,” Laurie said.

 

Vary your location.

Sometimes varying your physical location can make your work feel fresher. Albert Frazia, a chief human resources officer, said he sometimes goes “offsite” to work or think something through. When he lived in New York, his favorite location was Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. The quiet beauty of nature served as a nice contrast to the city surroundings, and in the spring and summer, chairs and tables were set out on the lawn for visitors. “I found this temporary re-location restorative and quite an enhancement to my productivity,” he said.

Laurie Donnelly also told us, “When I’m at the office, I walk over to MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles) and envision ways to complete my instructional design work as though it will be a work of art hanging in a museum.” On other days, she’ll walk to the public library and read a classic text for 10 minutes. “Reading the printed page improves comprehension and, for me, inspiration,” she said. If there isn’t time to go somewhere, Laurie has found that printing out her projects and sitting outside to review them works in a snap.

For most of us, a large portion of our day is spent at work. During our lifetime, we’ll probably spend about 90,000 hours doing our jobs. We may as well enjoy ourselves, right? Try out the suggestions above, and see if you can make work fun for you.

Make Work More Fun