Seinfeld fans may remember the episode where George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is working for the Yankees and is trying to look busy during the off-season when he finds himself with little responsibility. He explains to Jerry and Elaine, “I always look annoyed. When you look annoyed all the time, people think you are busy.” I have to say, George was on to something with that ploy. Many of us work in an environment where the assumption is that our external expressions of stress reflect our internal level of commitment to our job. In other words, the more stressed out and unhappy we are, the harder we must be working.
Veto! I think that to perform at our best, we need a little workplacezsa-zsa-zsu with laughter. I’m not alone in this opinion: honest-to-goodness real research has been done on fun. That research has shown that great companies score highly in the “fun” department: “On Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list, produced by the Great Place to Work Institute, employees in companies that are denoted as ‘great’ responded overwhelmingly – an average of 81 percent – that they are working in a ‘fun’ environment. That’s a compelling statistic, because it means that employees at the best companies are also having the best time.
So what does “fun” in the office look like (just in case you’ve forgotten)? Here are some of my personal favorites!
Planting Some Laughter
On one of my trips to the corporate office, it was obvious that everyone on the team was very high-strung (including myself). We had made a heavy investment with a vendor and the project was going south. Every meeting we sat in was doom and gloom. Now, I understand why the morale was in that state: the situation wasn’t exactly rosy. But we were getting nowhere and that just made everyone even more stressed. The attitude was, “There is no time to do anything but grind through it.”
Tish-Tosh. In an effort to change the morale of the team, I lured one of my teammates to engage in a little office shenanigan. We rounded up all of the office plants on the floor and put them in a teammate’s cubicle while he was at lunch. We then sat quietly at our desks and waited for the “What in the heck?!” response when he returned. My goodness, we all cracked up!
We went back into a meeting with the extended team after lunch and shared the story. Everyone had a great laugh. After that, the tone of the meeting changed dramatically. Admittedly, we didn’t have an amazing breakthrough, but creativity increased and the tension was no longer palpable – and we did ultimately rectify the situation. I call that a team win.
This experience backed up a University of Florida study that showed that team pranks and jokes increase emotional attachment, employee engagement, and creativity. Now, I realize that management can’t go around herding office plants in an effort to increase morale, but we can all be open to realizing that laughter does not equate to being unproductive. Sometimes a smile or a good chuckle can be a game changer. Like our mamas taught us – if you make a face for too long, it may just stay that way. I’d rather have a permanent smile than a frown.
“Hello, My Name Is …”
Let’s face it, we all have very bad days in which our scary side comes out. In fact, I’ve named my cranky alter ego “Tracey.” I’ve also taken the liberty of naming my closest teammates’ ornery alter egos … they are Nancy, Mandy, Julia, Glenda, Shelly (you know who you are…thanks for all of the fun(?)!) They have all happily accepted the titles. Why? Because it lends a note of humor to an otherwise bad day!
For instance, when we are on calls, we often address each other’s alter egos in an effort to communicate (in a non-offensive way) that the tone has changed. It’s a subtle tactic that helps all of us stay proactive and positive. We also instant message one another regularly. The dialogue might go something like, “Tracey just tapped in. Talk me off the ledge so I don’t pour fuel on this fire.” Answer: “Easy, Tracey. Last time you poured fuel on the fire, you had 10 apologies to make.” Situation diffused, chuckle granted.