by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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With Halloween right around the corner, I was helping my kids get ready for a night of trick or treating. They were so excited, but most of all because they were going to get to wear their costumes to school. It reminded me of how much fun I had getting to wear my costume to school, like the year I was Frankenstein, complete with champagne corks as bolts in my neck. In the mountains of academic work my kids have to deal with on a daily basis, it is the fun things at school that they talk most about at the end of their day. From project-based learning opportunities, to singing in music class, to art projects, to playing the Spongebob rock climbing game in PE, they excitedly talk about these fun experiences at the end of every day. My kids love fun learning experiences, like counting the pumpkin seeds that their class just carved out of a pumpkin, or learning about their school campus by reading a story on the gingerbread man and then looking for him all over campus (and being introduced to all the rooms and people in the school), only to return to their room to find a gingerbread man cookie and a note from him saying, “You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!”
I never hear about the worksheets they fill out, or the writing practice time, or the practice workbooks they do in class. Don’t get me wrong, there is obviously a need for these learning tasks as well, but I wonder if in the modern push for high performance in schools that we, as a society, have lost the ability to find time for fun. It is no different for us as adults in our workplaces. Work these days is a grind for many employees and organizations, filled with the monotony of task completion after task completion after task completion. When I worked as a researcher in a higher education organization, I moved from one study to another, without any allotted time to celebrate good work that we completed or to relax and have fun. It was like being on a hamster wheel as one project after another continued to encircle me as I became dazed, confused, and ultimately burned out.
My colleagues and I tried to find time on our own to sneak in some fun and those are the best memories I have, particularly the time we spent watching World Cup soccer games and March Madness during the work day on our giant high tech video screen. Those days were all about rejuvenation while we laughed, joked, talked about things other than work, ordered pizza, and enjoyed each other’s company. At one school where I taught years ago, the whole staff planned a potluck for one Friday each month with three rules: 1) no talking about teaching and leave work and issues at the door; 2) nobody but faculty and staff could be in the room so we could relax and be off for a few minutes; and 3) have fun and eat! We all loved these days and looked forward to them and they brought us together as a staff.
But these moments are rare in most organizations, and it is causing workplaces and schools to be devoid of happiness and fun. Think about your own situations and organizations and think back to the last time where you actually had fun. No, I am not talking about the company picnic or holiday party or birthday cake, but when did you stop for a few minutes and have fun during the work day? When did you last laugh or smile, or enjoy a cup of coffee with a colleague without kibitzing about work issues? Oh, it’s been awhile I am guessing. But we can’t lose these moments of fun! We can’t continue to run the hamster wheel and think it will ever stop! These fun moments can breathe life back into an organization and can increase productivity and reduce stress and burnout.
So as you prepare for Halloween and see all of the kids running around excited, laughing, and having fun with friends, do not forget that you were once those kids having fun as well. You may think that was a long time ago (and for many of us it was), but how can we get back into the happy, fun mindset so our jobs don’t burn us out? How can you start a fun tradition that everyone looks forward to? How can you build in moments of fun to bring people together to laugh? How can you bring smiles to the faces of your colleagues and reduce their stress at the same time? How can you make a difference in the lives of your colleagues and friends?
If you have any great stories to tell or ideas to share about how your organization has fun, then post them in the comment box so that others can learn from your experiences! Most of all, don’t forget that it’s okay to smile, laugh, and have fun with your colleagues every now and then!