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Monday, June 21, 2021

Executive Insider

Employees Just Want to Have Fun

As COVID-19 winds down and employees return to the office, companies need to remember that (paraphrasing Cyndi Lauper) “employees just want to have fun.” Most white-collar employees have been cooped up for over a year, isolated and stressed on many levels: professionally, socially, and even physically. Being human, they need and want personal interaction. But initially, it’s going to be awkward for many people to deal with co-workers face to face. You can help ease your employees back into the workplace by making the transition fun.

Research shows that playing games at work is both fun and productive. In a recent survey by TalentLMS, 87% of surveyed employees said game elements make them feel more socially connected and provide a sense of belonging at work. Along these same lines, Daria Lopukhina at Anadea reports that 90% of employees say they’re more productive when they engage in some form of gamification at work. For example:

  • Fast Company, a New York-based progressive business media publisher, holds office-wide Jeopardy contests.
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Open Systems Technology, a talent locater, is home to employee paper-airplane contests. Founder Dan Behm says, “What’s cool is that it gets all these different people from different areas of our company hanging out together, laughing, and coming up with these crazy ideas.”
  • Pyramid Solutions, an automation software firm in Bingham Farms, Michigan, encourages employees to spontaneously break into Nerf gun battles whenever the need arises. “It’s a fun way to de-stress at work that doesn’t take intense physical activity or lengthy setup or cleanup,” says one senior systems engineer. When new employees start work, they’re given a Nerf gun and a lighthearted warning: “You’re gonna need this.”
  • Sheetz, a gas station-convenience store chain based in Altoona, Pennsylvania, has Olympic-style sandwich-building competitions.
  • Lip-sync contests are very popular at AOL, the New York City-based online service provider. They also happen frequently at Austin, Texas-based BigCommerce, an online firm, and across the state, in Abilene, at Funeral Directors Life, an insurance company that caters to funeral directors (which is funny in itself).

Games can be used as an icebreaker to kick off the day, to start a meeting, or as a social break later in the afternoon. These games can be led by a member of management who is willing to have some fun, or you can easily create a “Fun Committee” from employee volunteers and ask them to coordinate such activities. Since the majority of workers today hail from the Millennial generation—a group known for wanting to have more fun in life and at work—this shouldn’t be that large of a leap of faith.

The takeaways:

  1. Pick your times. Think of opportunities during the day that are ripe for fun: when employees first arrive at the office, at the beginning of meetings, or as a break in the afternoon.
  2. Involve your staff. By sharing the responsibility of having more fun at work, you get greater buy-in from your staff and a greater variety of fun things to try.
  3. Switch it up. Try different things to keep things fresh. It’s OK if something you try doesn’t work. Learn from what worked—and what didn’t—to do it better next time.

Employees will appreciate your efforts, get to know one another better, and perhaps even look forward to being back at the office!


Written by Dr. Bob Nelson and Mario Tamayo.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Dr. Bob Nelson, Ph.D., president of Nelson Motivation Inc., is the world’s leading authority on employee recognition and engagement. He has worked with 80% of Fortune 500 companies and authored over 30 books, including the multimillion-copy bestseller 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. With Mario Tamayo he co-authored the new book Work Made Fun Gets Done! Easy Ways to Boost Energy, Morale, and Results (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; May 11, 2021).


Dr. Bob Nelson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn and his website.