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The seriousness of fun in business

Dr Lynda Shaw explains why we should have fun at work

Ideas are being blocked and strategies are not being properly implemented because of the increase in stress and consequent decrease of enjoyment in the workplace, according to Cognitive Psychologist and Business Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw.

Did you know that the average preschooler laughs or smiles 400 times a day, but this number drops to only 15 times a day by the time we reach age 35?

While we may not all want or have the space for a Google slide, games room and ‘chill-out aquarium’, Shaw argues that if we have lost the ability to have fun, then the risk of seriously stressed employees with little to no creativity increases exponentially. Research has shown for years that a fun workplace means more productive, energetic and creative employees who are better lateral thinkers. What has changed is the stress we now face associated with increased multi-tasking, heightened information bombardment and the need for constant development.

Shaw explains why fun in business is needed to combat increased stress levels: “When we are stressed cortisol, the stress hormone, is secreted in abundance. A certain amount of cortisol is good because it keeps us on our toes, but chronic stress can result in cortisol overload, which causes a great deal of damage including illnesses such as heart disease, some cancers and perhaps even chronic depression.

“The best way to stop this hormone from taking over is to stimulate other neuromodulators. When they are accelerated they enhance the release of both dopamine and serotonin, creating a much more positive outlook. In fact, laughter releases endorphins, which are 10 times more powerful at pain relief than morphine, boosts immunity and increases oxygen intake. One of the best ways to activate neuromodulators is quite simply through having fun. Encouraging fun and consequently social interaction is paramount to having happy, engaged employees.”

Research by Dr David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach found that people who have fun on the job are more creative and productive, better decision-makers and get along better with co-workers. They also have fewer absentee, late and sick days than people who aren’t having fun. The benefits of having fun can also be measured by comparing the absenteeism, tardiness and turnover rates prior to a change to a more enjoyable company culture, as can employee and customer satisfaction surveys. Psychologically, fun and play at work allows us to explore the group hierarchy and unsaid rules in a safe way, which leads to healthier working relationships

Dr Shaw also argues when we are learning and having fun with new material, especially if it is complex, then we have a better chance of understanding and retaining that information. “We know we don’t learn when we are bored. Psychology tells us that learning in bite-size chunks really works with a dash of fun because short and snappy content prevents mental burnout and allows you to carefully process the information. However, fun or laughter must complement but not distract from learning material.”

Dr Shaw’s tips for implementing fun in the workplace:

  • Encourage breaks. Just allowing employees to take small breaks to take time for themselves works wonders because it acts as a way to decompress and refresh. Furthermore, don’t forget to organise fun activities your own employees can take part in during breaks, such as a sandwich-making contest or an after work departmental volleyball match. Not only will it encourage employee interaction but it will also incorporate fun into their day.
  • Remember that being professional does not mean being serious all the time.
  • Celebrate big achievements. Organising social events and parties to celebrate hitting a big target or securing a huge deal means that employees realise their work does not go unnoticed. Take your team out for an occasional drink or lunch. A social will also help employees bond together, meaning a loyal and happier workforce.
  • Start meetings with a joke that is acceptable to everyone in the room or a funny anecdote. This will help everyone relax and feel more open, which means they are all more likely to share their ideas without feeling embarrassed or nervous. Make sure it’s either a really good (or bad) joke.