Guest Column

Are We Having Fun Yet?

by Sandra S. Peterson

As I was driving home one day recently, I noticed a sign on the local McDonald's. It read "Have Fun and Make Money." That led me to wonder how little commitment most of us make to having fun in the work we do as educational leaders and in our interactions with the staff we support in our schools.


How sad it is that McDonald's offers fun in the workplace and we're so sorely lacking in education. This is true even though research on retaining valuable employees shows that money isn't at the top of the job satisfaction list for most people. What keeps them coming back for more is feeling valued, and there is no better way than to share the fun.

In a survey of 329 executives published in Training and Development Magazine, 97 percent agreed that humor is valuable in business and 60 percent believed a sense of humor can be a deciding factor in determining how successful a person can be in the work world. Humor shows that you are human, and the research clearly shows that all of us prefer to work for people who are willing to break down the barriers and show they are human.

Laughing Matters

The benefits that go with humor and laughter are well known. People who have a good sense of humor tend to be more self-confident, more creative and realistic. They have good relationships, and they enhance team spirit and productivity, according to motivational expert Zig Ziglar, author of Over the Top. A leader needs to let employees know, with a smile, a pat on the back, a personal note or whatever communication seems appropos, that the employee is appreciated. Never assume the employee's well being.

The idea that laughter, play and fun are an essential part of life is certainly not a concept new to our modern age. When Plato was asked the question, "What then is the right way to live?" his reply was, "Life should be lived as play." Once you begin to incorporate fun into your workday, you will find you create a genuine sense of job satisfaction for yourself and for others around you.

The success of UCLA basketball always grew out of beliefs of Coach John Wooden. The center of his teaching was his “pyramid of success.” Many of the foundation blocks in his pyramid are traits that are required to generate fun in the workplace. These traits include friendship, loyalty, cooperation and enthusiasm.

Organizations that integrate fun into work have lower levels of absenteeism, increased productivity and greater job satisfaction. Fun and humor help individuals through crisis and change. They facilitate the release of tension and enhances the employee's ability to cope with stress on the job and to remain flexible, creative and innovative under pressure.

John Diamond, author of the book, Your Body Doesn't Lie, says negative thoughts and communication can literally sap one’s physical strength. It takes 7 to 10 positive comments to counteract a single negative comment.

How Do We Celebrate?

Could you take a trip to the toy store? You're bound to find something that will brighten someone's day, maybe even your own. The next time you "go to battle," wear something that will bring a smile to your face (even if no one else can see it!). It will be a reminder that things are almost never as serious as they may seem.

Could you put together a grab bag of unusual office decor, ugly ties, smiling stress balls, yo-yos, punching bags and more? Give them to anyone who seems to need a lift. Could you transform a space into a Stress-Free Zone? Fill it with palm trees, lounging chairs, toys and clouds floating overhead—whatever serves to relax you. Some of the best written work is not done at one’s desk, but on the floor in a safe environment. Work hard, play hard.

Working hard demonstrates commitment. But a good leader also values play as demonstrated by the successful Ben and Jerry's, the makers of premium ice cream. They employ a few people (known as a “fun force”) whose job it is to make work enjoyable for others.

Could you offer anonymous and unexpected appreciation? Cultivate the human touch? Play childhood games? Arrange an ugly hat contest? Design kits to reduce stress? Practice random kindness? Distribute note pads with headings of "Thanks to you, I ..." or "You made my day when ..." Your staff will enjoy using these to practice what they see you model.

The next time you ask staff if they are having fun, please know it is a powerful question and make every effort to follow through. Having fun puts the primary value on the people in an organization. Lead by example and truly transform the way we live at work.

Sandra Peterson, past vice chair of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, is assistant director of special education, Educational Service Unit 3, 6949 S. 110th St., Omaha, Neb. 68128. E-mail: