All work, no play…

beatles aldershot crowdMany companies today, as the U.S. and Canadian economic crisis widens into a global concern, are finding work is no fun.  Literally.

Wear proper attire.  No joking or clowning allowed.  Put your chin to the grindstone.  If you must laugh, would the boss approve and is it appropriate.

Woe is us.

Well, folks, lighten up is the key advice advocated by the authors of a new business book, “The Levity Effect”, in which the arguments are made that “fun is a serious business”. There is, as Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher points out, a “connection between the punch line and the bottom line.” Laugh it up at work and with certainty you will be—wait for it—“laughing all the way to the bank”. No, honestly.

Maybe up to now, the gripping authority of Human Resources has built what seems like an insurmountable wall of “red flags” that rules out kidding, mockery, sarcasm or even anger into most workplaces.  You are aware of the Time and Place Rule: “The universally ignored law which dictates that before any workplace humour is executed, its bearer must determine, using reasonably sound judgment, if said humour is appropriate.

The book offers an intriguing amount of evidence to back its assertion that levity pays: “Fun at work,” Messrs Gostick and Christopher explain, “can provide a competitive advantage, help attract and retain employees, and provide the spark to jumpstart creativity.” Furthermore, they write, a fun workplace “improves communication and morale, raises the level of employee trust, lowers employee turnover and increases profits.”

Here’s point number one.  The authors state that an organisation called the Great Place to Work Institute has time and again found that companies that are classified as “great” earn extraordinarily top marks from employees on the question “Are you working in a fun environment?” Great companies scored 81% on this, compared to 62% for companies ranked just “good”.

An Ipsos study suggests that those managers with a high sense of humour are likely to be around a year later as opposed to those rated with an average or below average sense of humour by a margin of almost fifteen percent.

Google offers its employees free food, scooters, volleyball courts, a toy dinosaur and a yellow brick road. Among the other top ten ranked are Starbucks, the Container Store and Nugget Market, a California grocery store.

The fun strategies employed are as varied as the companies themselves.

Intuit has a “fun committee” that organizes events such as potluck breakfasts and jeopardy games. AstraZeneca has a “fun department” that brings “funsters” to the firm to sing, distribute toys and tell jokes.  Another firm, which lists “fun” among its core values, hands-out “Walk the Talk” awards, a set of wind-up chattering teeth presented by the chief executive accompanied by a kazoo band. KPMG holds online contests for staff (with great prizes), and gives away barbecue packs.

The authors are convinced that bosses can learn to be blithe without coddling in the fake friendliness of the boss as displayed on the hit TV show, “The Office”.

The best bet, they suggest, may be to hire people with a sense of humour. That was the philosophy of Herb Kelleher; the legendary boss of Southwest Airlines, an airline that is reportedly an actual a pleasure to fly. The authors noted the story of one of his staff delivering one of the most unusual and judicious lines in the book, “We’re sorry for the delay, but our automated bag smasher is broken and we are having to break your bags by hand.”

Perhaps point number two; it might be a good strategy to let your staff use You Tube during office hours.

: “Fun at work,” Messrs Gostick and Christopher assert, “can provide a competitive advantage, help attract and retain employees, and provide the spark to jumpstart creativity.” A fun workplace improves communication and morale, raises the level of employee trust, lowers employee turnover and increases profits.

By: Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp. Mercantile specializes in the sale of privately owned mid market companies. He can be contacted at mark@mercantilema.com or (416) 368-8466 ext. 232 or www.mercantilemergersacquisitions.com