Can you ever make work 'fun'?

Written by
Cary Cooper

15 Aug 2016

15 Aug 2016 • by Cary Cooper

Work is such a large part of people’s lives and is becoming more so, as working hours increase and our ability to remotely complete work tasks develops too. When we spend so much of our time at work, it’s important to ensure that it’s an environment that’s conducive to a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Research and work carried out by my university spin-off company, Robertson Cooper, for BrightHR shows that being connected to, and excited about, your role at work is an important aspect of people’s ability to be happy, healthy and productive. But that is only part of the picture; whether or not people experience more positive than negative emotions at work is equally important.

New expectations of future talent - work should be fun

Much of my experience with companies over the last forty years focuses on how you can prevent stress and help people to flourish. This means focusing on developing a culture that prioritises employee experience and wellbeing as a key driver for increased performance. We know that experiencing positive emotions not only protects people against stress, but actually helps them to become more productive at work and excel at what they do. For this reason, it's important to foster a culture of positive emotions towards the workplace.

The It Pays to Play report indicates that more millennials expect fun to be an integral part of their lives at work than any other demographic. But this contrasts sharply with the very small number of business owners who think the same. When the millennial presence in our workforce is only going to continue to grow over the next five years, employers need to acknowledge their expectations and ensure that decision-making is informed by the needs of this group rather than past habits.

Does having fun make you work harder? Generational divides

The top five activities that were felt to make work a more fun place to be were:

Dress down Friday (25%)

Office parties/nights out (21%)

A pool table (19%)

An office pet (18%)

Wellbeing massage days (17%). 

Our research showed that 62% of people who didn’t consider any of the activities we outlined as fun were aged 45 or over, and 39% of people aged 45-54 though there was ‘no such thing as fun in the workplace.’

Half of all business owners we spoke to did not want play at work…but 45% of graduates – the younger end of the workplace who will effectively shape its future think it would make them work harder.

Work out what drives positive emotions in your people

It's important to remember that introducing fun in the workplace isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Positive emotions are driven by different factors for different people. While men indicate they prefer computer games, for instance, women suggest they want a more social orientation. Fun is a really personal thing, and, generally speaking, people don’t have very high expectations about what employers should provide – instead, it’s more about employers and managers giving their teams permission to take the lead and initiate play.

I urge employers to look at fostering a culture of positive psychological wellbeing. We know positive emotions help make people happy and that, in turn, happy people are productive, loyal and generally have higher levels of wellbeing than those who aren’t. Looking at the findings of this report, if we know that fun can increase effectiveness and productivity at work, why aren’t we doing more to bring fun and play into the workplace?


To download the full It Pays to Play report, please visit: