Work Hard – But Don't Forget to Laugh and Have Fun

If you aren’t having fun in your work, fix the problem before it gets serious. And if you don’t fix it, go away before you spoil the fun for the rest of us.

As I listen to audiences across the country, the second most frequent complaint I hear is that “the fun is gone.” It’s not like it used to be. There’s more work than ever, and fewer people to do it. Stress is up, and loyalty is down.

Unfortunately, many managers are guilty of killing fun in the work environment. They say things like, “OK, we’ve had enough fun around here. It’s time to get back to work.” They have the misguided notion that somehow fun and work are incompatible.

Not at all! Fun, profit, and excellence go hand in hand. Robert Townsend, one of the more respected business writers of the 20th century says: “If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent, it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the heck are you doing there?”

One of the best examples may be Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines. For years, he has run the most consistently profitable airline in the United States. Even though he has great people skills, and a nose for cutting costs, he is known for his consistent focus on fun.

Fortune magazine even named him “America’s best CEO,” noting his contagious, outrageous sense of humor. Kelleher has appeared at corporate headquarters dressed as Elvis and on planes as the Easter Bunny.

What’s the point? His focus on fun shows up in Southwest employees. Flight attendants have been known to organize trivia contests or seated passenger relay races. Attendants have delivered instructions in rap, hidden in overhead baggage compartments, and shared numerous anecdotes.

I remember one Southwest Airlines flight where the attendant showed wonderful creativity. Typically no one listens to the attendant give safety announcements, but this one attendant really got our attention. She said, “There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but only two ways to leave this plane. If you’re smart, you’ll get out your safety instruction card and follow along as I explain.” All of us took out our cards and followed along.

On another flight, the attendant asked if we had heard about Freedom Air, the airline just for smokers. He said on that airline the attendants don’t bother with safety lectures since no one on board seems that concerned about dying. We all laughed, but then we were all ready to listen to the safety lecture that applied to Southwest Airlines.

Does this spirit of fun get in the way of efficiency and profits? Just the opposite. Kelleher and Southwest Airlines have demonstrated that a sense of humor helps create a culture of excellence. In fact, Southwest employees are the most loyal in the industry, and the company itself continues to grow larger and more profitable each year.

Action:  Take a look at your job and your work environment. Ask yourself if you’re having enough fun at work. If not, decide to do something this week that will put more fun in your work.