Six reasons why fun in the office is the future of work

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By: Barry Chignell

Happy employees are healthier and more productive – so don’t overlook the importance of having fun in the workplace

While most people, generally, would rather spend time with their friends and family than be at work, there’s no need for work days to be all doom and gloom.

Investing time and effort into making your workplace a more enjoyable place to be can have tangible positive benefits for employees, teams, and your wider organisation. Here are six reasons why fun should be part of your HR strategy.

1. Happy employees are healthier

Absence and absenteeism is a significant problem. UK businesses lose 6.9 days a year per employee because of absenteeism, at an estimated cost of £554 per employee. Nearly a quarter (23%) of UK organisations say ‘non-genuine absence’ is the top reason for short-term absence for non-manual workers, with this proportion rising to 30% for manual workers.

Content employees who have fun at work are more likely to avoid the negative effects of stress and anxiety and have even been shown to have a lower heart rate variability (the time interval between beats) with is associated with a risk of disease.

The health effects that happiness has on your workforce will also help to reduce absence costs and reduce presenteeism. If your workers are generally healthier as a result of the increased fun they’re having in the office, then they’ll take less time off due to sickness. Introduce more fun activities into your workplace, and health and wellbeing initiatives, and you should be able to track the positive effect on absence rates via your HR system.

“A vast scientific literature has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress or fear can alter biological systems in a way that, over time, adds up to ‘wear and tear’ and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening atherosclerosis [plaque deposits on the lining of arterial walls] and increasing systemic inflammation.”

Harvard School of Public Health

2. Having fun improves communication and collaboration

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of knowledge workers collaborate multiple times a day with their colleagues, so encouraging an effective way to improve cohesion within your organisation should be a priority.

Enjoying time with colleagues in a relaxed and fun environment encourages honest and open discussion and trust in one another. If employees are friends with the people they work with, as opposed to simply being colleagues, then they’ll work better together and communicate more effectively.

Having fun with people is a great way for individuals to learn about each other’s traits, likes, dislikes and develop unspoken habits and rules that aid mutual understanding. This knowledge enables them to better understand each other’s boundaries, strengths and weaknesses.

3. Fun breeds creativity

Social ‘play’ is a vital part in healthy creative development. Young children often learn best when they are playing, and that principle also applies to adults.

Individuals’ ability to learn improves when the task at hand is enjoyable and they’re in a relaxed mood. Play can also stimulate imagination, helping people adapt and problem solve.

Creative environments have an atmosphere and activity that is easily distinguishable. There’s a buzz in the air, colleagues are enthusiastic and energetic, and there are lots of conversations happening.

This creative culture can be nurtured by injecting fun initiatives into employees’ daily lives. Challenges and problem-solving exercises, whether as a result of day-to-day activity or introduced in the form of competitions or initiatives, are an effective way to increase innovation within the workforce.

4. Promoting fun attracts an audience

The opportunity that having fun at work provides an organisation is substantial. Sharing stories about enjoyable atmosphere in your workplace can be a crucial part of a compelling employer branding story and can help to garner attention on social media. Providing a window for people to find out about daily life at your organisation increases familiarity and trust. Whether a potential customer or passive talent, if that individual feels that they ‘know’ your company and can see your ‘human’, fun side then they’ll be more likely to engage with you.

5. Having fun makes employees more productive

2015 study by the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy found that happier employees are more productive by an average of 12% and, in some cases, up to 20% more than a control group. This difference is significant, given that “in term so national GDP or economic growth, [productivity] rises of 3% or so are considered very large.”

When an employee feels low or sad for any reason, their motivation drops, they may withdraw and communicate less, and may generally be less productive.

There will always be unavoidable events in our lives that make us unhappy, but we cope better and recover faster when we’re surrounded by happiness, support and friendship.

6. Having fun encourages advocacy

Advocates act as a powerful force in shaping the public perception of an organisation. Employees that have fun, enjoy what they do, and are engaged will naturally share stories and act as advocates for your brand – on and offline. If every one of your employees shared news and updates about your brand to their own social groups, then your audience will increase exponentially – and for free.

This article was first published in November 2016. It was updated in May 2018 for freshness, accuracy and clarity.