Fun in the Workplace: Driving CX through Employee Engagement

This week I wad the pleasure of attending training at The Fun Dept., an organization that simply believes that work should be fun.  More importantly, they actively work with companies of all sizes to build fun right into the fabric of the organization. Fun in the workplace is strongly correlated to employee engagement, and without employee engagement you can’t deliver an exceptional customer experience.

The importance of engagement

Regardless of the business that your company is in, employee engagement is essential if you want to outperform your competitors.  In this interview, Fun Dept. CEO and managing partner Nat Measely reports that “a staggering 79 percent of companies believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem. Losing an employee can cost up to four times their salary, depending on the position.”  At the same time, research abounds that correlates fun and play to increased engagement. So why aren’t companies taking advantage of this straightforward effect?

Fun doesn’t have to be complicated

Many organizations think that they’re creating fun because they have a summer picnic, a holiday party, and maybe a happy hour or two.  Some companies, in a truly heroic effort to be fun, will pay for full-day elaborate events or retreats that cost a fortune, but think about it:  is there any fun event that you really want to do for eight hours straight?  With all of your coworkers?  Probably not.

Fun can be short, simple, and sweet.  Fifteen minutes every few weeks is more effective than a single half-day or full-day event.  It doesn’t require an event company to come in; something as simple as whiteboard pictionary or trying to throw crumpled balls of paper into a wastebasket from across the room can be fun.  During my training, the Fun Dept. team showed us how to generate literally hundreds and thousands of ideas from a few simple basics.

Fun has to be inclusive

Fun in the workplace - not

Team-building fun or emergency room visit in the making? Sometimes there’s not much difference.

The boss loves paintball, so every year the whole company heads off to the woods to play paintball.  Never mind that Betty in accounting has a bad knee or that Will has PTSD from being in the infantry, the boss likes paintball so everybody else better like paintball too!

Fun Dept. founder Nick Gianoulis has this to say about the traditional view of team building, or what he and his colleagues call “forced family fun”:

Over the years, “team building” has become a curse word because of the perception. We are not those companies. There is a way to immediately put a crowd at ease by letting them know it will be brief and there will be a place for everyone to participate at the level they feel comfortable. It could be keeping score, spectating [or] cheering. By allowing people this freedom, and not holding folks hostage, we typically achieve 100 percent participation in our activities.

Some companies make a valiant effort to find that one magical activity that will appeal to everyone, but in any group that has more than a handful of people that activity doesn’t exist.  Therefore, you must devise activities that have supporting and inclusive roles for people who don’t like to participate in the main activity itself.  You don’t like paintball?  OK, you can take pictures, or help paint the CEO’s paintball gun with pink glitter before he goes out in the field, or run the refreshment stand in between rounds.

Activity advisers have to find a way to include everyone and make them feel welcome.  It’s not that hard.

Fun has to be on company time

We call it work because it’s the thing we have to do to make a living.  Unless you’re an entrepreneur workaholic, most people prefer non-work to work.  So, don’t chew into your team’s time by forcing them to participate in “fun” after hours instead of during the work day.  You’re not really showing much of a commitment by making your people do it on their time instead of yours.

Fun has to be consistent

Fun creates a positive effect among your team, but that effect doesn’t last forever.  You need to make sure you plan some fun at least once a month to get the benefits; if you don’t stick to at least a minimal schedule it won’t have that consistent effect you want.

Fun drives engagement, engagement drives customer experience

Fun in the workplace isn’t just a novelty, it actually delivers measurable results.  Among companies denoted as “great” in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, a whopping 81 percent of employees say they work in a fun environment.  If your employees aren’t happy, they aren’t going to deliver exceptional customer experience.  They need to be engaged and interested in creating the best possible experience for each customer, every time.

How to get started

To successfully implement fun, your organization needs to recognize that it’s not just a one-off event done after hours or an elaborate full-day event, but rather a sustained campaign of short, simple, inclusive events.  I highly recommend The Fun Dept.’s book Playing It Forward as a simple instruction manual.

Employee engagement is one of the three essential pillars of delivering an exceptional customer experience.  A little fun just might help you get there.


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