Work is serious stuff. Really, it is.
Work involves money, effort, planning, training, decisions, discussions, machinery, equipment, technology, more money, hardware, software, success, failure, responsibility, compromise and countless other variables plus, of course, even more money.
There’s no getting around it, work is serious stuff. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place (and genuine value to be considered) for fun in the workplace.
At Irish Titan, fun is very much part of our culture. It’s something we express to our clients and celebrate with our staff. But “fun” doesn’t just mean birthday cakes and balloons. We use fun as way to keep each other engaged with what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Happy Titans tend to be productive Titans. Or, to borrow a line from our CEO Darin Lynch, a fun working environment generates effortless performance.
At our recent Ecomm Forum in Minneapolis the keynote speaker was Mike Veeck. Mike just happens to be the founder of the consulting firm Fun Is Good and author of the book of the same name. He’s also the co-owner of the St. Paul Saints.
As his well-documented and much admired career path suggests, Mike Veeck knows more than most about the value of fun. As a follow up to his wonderful presentation at the Ecomm Forum, we thought we’d ask him a few questions for this article. Nice man that he is, Mike agreed to answer them.
Was there an individual moment or an incident (an epiphany, if you like) that brought you around to your current belief in the value of fun in the workplace?
No, no particular moment. You see, I grew up in a house where ideas (both crazy and practical) were valued. We had a wooden crate that we called the idea box where we wrote down fun ideas to consider for pretty much anything…ways to make the housework more fun, pranks to play on our relatives, places to visit on vacation. And when we’d have our annual family fire drills, my sole responsibility was to grab the idea box and bring it outside to safety. I’m pretty sure my sister’s job was to get the other kids…actually, I don’t know who was to do that. All I know is that I had to save the idea box! I also had the privilege of watching my dad practice fun and passion at the ballpark and in everything he did. I guess I’ve been lucky in that way. I saw how my dad took so many risks in the pursuit of fun to make his ballclub/workplace a great place to be.
Clearly, your overarching philosophy is that fun in the workplace can help promote success in business, but do you believe a fun, engaging culture can also help a company deal with failures and setbacks?
Absolutely! The most successful companies I’ve known or have been a part of have actually encouraged innovative ideas that may very well lead to failure. If business leaders don’t acknowledge the possibility of failure you get mediocrity! I’m really passionate about this. When did it become so terrible to fail? We need to encourage people to take risks so they come up with game-changing ideas. That’s what I was trying to do with Disco Demolition in 1979…talk about a failure! At Fun Is Good, we have clients who actually celebrate failed ideas. I’ve always said, if we’re able to laugh at ourselves a little bit, and not be devastated by every mistake, good things will happen. When you do this enough, it becomes part of your culture and before you know it, you’ll be generating so many great, creative ideas you won’t have enough time to implement them all. I love that we have so many home games with the St. Paul Saints so we can implement hundreds of promotional ideas each season.
Is the real value of a fun workplace largely internal, or can it (indeed, should it) be customer/client facing as well?
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! (Is that enough yeses?) In addition to the benefits of having a fun and positive work culture, customers sense this immediately in their interactions with you. People want to do business with companies that have a sense of humor. At Fun is Good and the St. Paul Saints, we try to take our customer interactions and the quality of our products very seriously, but not ourselves. This has to be real, though…like you really mean it. Consumers are smart and they know when something is authentic vs. manufactured or forced. The Saints have one of the consistently highest attendance records in all minor league baseball. We did research (that’s a fancy way of saying we talked to our fans) and discovered that only 40% of people came to the ballpark for quality baseball. That means 60% of the people who pay money to come to the ballpark are there for the experience…the fun! This is actually the entire philosophy of my consulting firm Fun Is Good. “Happy and fulfilled employees leads to elated customers resulting in success and profits.” We believe that this is a competitive advantage and indeed can dramatically differentiate you from your competitors.
Beyond smiling, happy employees, can you describe some of the broader, long term benefits of a fun work environment?
I’d like to think I’m as smart as Gallup, but they were the ones to do the research to prove what we all have sensed all along. They found that 50% of all U.S. employees are unhappy, 70% of employees are actively disengaged at work and that 18% of employees admit to taking out their unhappiness on fellow employees. What, 18%? That is far too many people not having fun and taking it out on their co-workers. That’s crazy! When employees are having fun and are engaged, Gallup again proves that there are massive benefits to the bottom line and fellow employees. Companies with engaged employees realized:
- 21% higher productivity
- 22% higher profitability
- 48% fewer safety incidents
- 10% higher customer satisfaction metrics
- 37% lower absenteeism
When you’re in a fun work environment, you just know it…you feel it. It is entirely possible that other’s feel great at work and you don’t. That doesn’t’ mean the environment is bad, it’s just not right for you. Be bold, take a risk and figure out what you need to do to make it fun for you too, or make a change so that you are expressing your passions, working in your strengths and having fun at work. Everyone around you will benefit!
To paraphrase Mike Veeck, at Irish Titan we take our work very seriously, but when the appropriate opportunity presents itself, we’re totally on board with not taking ourselves seriously. “Professional shenanigans” is a term that seems to fit.
After all, as the man himself said, fun is good.