How to have fun at work without the cringe

Have you been having a whole lot of fun lately? If you work for an organisation or business it’s likely that you have. ’Tis the season of office parties, Secret Santa and Karaoke down the pub with colleagues.

Hopefully, it has actually been fun and not all a bit of a nightmare.

There’s a growing body of evidence that fun at work not only makes for happier, healthier, more productive employees but fun helps organisations and businesses fulfil their mission even more effectively.

I work almost exclusively with non-profit organisations and know some of the most effective charities in their field have embraced fun as a core organisational value – alongside more familiar ones such as respect, equality and accountability.

Fun isn’t just for Christmas

Wherever you work, fun all year round has a whole host of benefits which come together in a beautiful virtuous circle. Here are some:

  • Fun allows staff to have a laugh and let off steam. This is important for everyone, but even more so when the issues they may be working with are deeply upsetting or difficult as is the case for many of my clients. Lifting staff spirits acts as a refresher, helping them tackle those challenges with renewed vigour and optimism.
  • When people are having fun, they experience less stress and tend to be happier with a greater sense of wellbeing. Better for them, better for the outfit as a whole.
  • Happier people are more productive people, more engaged with work. If work drains the life out of you, you’re not going to be doing a great job, are you?
  • Fun builds trust and encourages positive relationships between colleagues, vital for the successful collaboration and problem solving the not for profit sector needs.
  • Creativity and innovative thinking thrive in an atmosphere of play and fun, where people are allowed to experiment without feeling constrained by institutional right and wrong answers.
  • Having fun helps people to learn more effectively.

Fun for all?

Two of my clients, the Back Up Trust and Forum for the Future, have ‘fun’ and ‘playful’ respectively, as core values. This isn’t right for everyone, I know. Here are a few guidelines for how to bring in a greater sense of fun to your workplace, all year round without it all being a big cringe.

– Creating a culture where fun is acceptable, has to come from the top. Staff will find their own fun, but only if there is trust that they won’t be judged or made to feel silly or bad. A leader who can relax and enjoy some fun – when appropriate – from time to time can do wonders in putting staff at ease.

– Lowering the barriers to fun, such as tackling poor working conditions and staff conflict, is also key. As Louise Wright, CEO of Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis told me,

“Fun comes out when people are able to get on, when they’re not grappling with silly issues such as office politics, and there is a fair and equitable workplace which allows them to be empowered and facilitated. It’s my job to make sure that happens.”

  • Planned fun (sports day, bake-offs, ‘bring your dog to work day’) is good. Organic fun that bubbles up from happy, supported staff is even better. Warm chats with colleagues, spontaneous lunches out and birthday celebrations all add up to a ‘fun-positive’
  • Fun doesn’t want to feel overly scheduled or formal. And, please, don’t make anything obligatory. That really gives fun at work a bad name.
  • Gender, cultural and age-related differences mean that what constitutes fun can vary hugely. Make sure fun is inclusive.
  • Bring fun into your learning. No boring blah, blah-ing in front of a PowerPoint! When I was invited to run management training at Aspire Charity recently, I didn’t go in banging a drum shouting ‘let’s have fun!” but through the use of games, funny graphics, and my trademark squeaky green frog, plus warm, honest conversation, we all had a very fun time.

So, despite the doom and gloom. Despite, or maybe, because of Boris, I shall carry on encouraging fun in the sector and celebrating all that’s playful and light-hearted. I may get some flak for it, but I truly believe that however tough our tasks, however difficult the issues we face, there is always time, and very good reason, to have fun.

Want to add a little more fun into the mix at your workplace? It can be good to start small. What could you do, after the office decorations are packed away and the holiday fun is over, to bring that playful spirit into your workplace in 2020?

Katie Duckworth is a coach and trainer helping non-profit leaders and their teams to be happy, productive and effective in their work to create a better world.

This post is adapted from a blog posted on

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