November 11, 2011 By Dan Lohrmann
Government organizations like to use phrases like “fun environment,” “creative staff” or even “risk-taking encouraged” to describe the values they espouse at work. No one wants a boring office life.
Whether they’re attracting new talent, trying to keep existing high flyers from jumping ship or changing the office culture to suit the demands of Millennials, executives are always seeking new ways to keep the masses happy on the cheap. Management, which has long offered golf outings and birthday cakes, now permits social networking and other online activities (or looks the other way). At a recent technology conference, I overheard, “Oh yeah, we encourage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype and just about every top Web service out there. We even let them have their fantasy sports leagues and surf Second Life. Our staff practically demands it!”
At the same time, public CIOs often struggle to balance productivity, security and fun at work. The same overheard conversation continued, “No, I haven’t figured out the security implications yet — but I’m more worried about my best and brightest leaving than having a security breach. Besides, we’re talking about grown adults here. They know when they go too far.”
Even if this conversation doesn’t hit home, most leaders worry about “the cloud,” social networking and inappropriate smartphone use. Perhaps you’re thinking, “What about project deadlines and wasting time? Should staff be paid for personal computer use or playing games? What about public perception?”
Which leads to this vital question: How can we have fun at work while not crossing the invisible line that decries inefficiency, or worse, security risk?
Before I provide tips to hopefully help, I’d like to mention a few basic 21st-century assumptions. First, gone are the days when pay and performance were measured only by the time spent sitting at your desk. We need to be (primarily) managing our staff on their results and outcomes that are measurable and agreed upon in advance.
Of course, ethics count. There are plenty of good social media and smartphone policies that can serve as models, but blatant violations of acceptable use must be addressed. Still, just as good parents look at each child individually and know when to discipline behaviors or encourage “jumping in the pool,” a good manager will mentor staff and make reasonable judgments about staff going too far down the “fun road.”
Second, an employee who is unhappy in his or her profession or role is unlikely to have fun or be very productive at work no matter what rules govern office activity. Dedication and passion ultimately come from the satisfaction from a job well done and not from social interactions at the office or online fun.
Nevertheless, here are six ideas, both offline and on, that I’ve seen enhance office life in technical environments:
1. Buy some toys — I was once amazed at the fun that was created in one tight-knit area that was dealing with a lot of stress and heavy workloads. The answer: Nerf guns for everyone, along with daily attacks. Managers who entered their space were often greeted with Nerf ambushes as well. I loved the energy that those toys created.
2. Watch or play sports together — Golf, softball, bowling and other games bring groups together in fun ways outside the normal office setting. No league? Challenge another office to a game of kickball. Watch local sports teams together or wear the team colors.
3. Celebrate birthdays or designated “fun days” — food always helps, and brown bag lunch presentations that share hobbies are often popular.
1. Create personalized Web environments (such as an intranet site) to share content — allow creativity, pictures, blogs and more. Share viral links, activities and professional tips.
2. Offer reasonable personal Internet use during breaks, lunches or other downtime. Balance connectivity with transparency and accountability that builds trust with staff.
3. Visit one of the many websites that offer team-building exercises and numerous online tips for fun at work.
A final thought: Historian Arnold Toynbee once said, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” This lifelong challenge is not new, but the journey is worth the effort.
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