Coaching: Are your employees having fun?

Three recent events brought humor to the forefront of my mind – and that is where it belongs, I believe.

 I’m in the middle of enjoying one of those events, a two-week visit from my daughter, Ann, and her family. My grandson, Travis, will stretch to his tallest and tell you that he is five-and-a-half years old. Having Travis in the house is having a living reminder of the joys available in everyday life, if we’re only present and open to them. He is reminding me, in hundreds of different ways, the importance of being silly. We make up silly songs and poems and play silly games that he creates spontaneously from whole cloth. We laugh … and I remember how refreshing it is to experiment with lightheartedness on a daily basis.

The second reminder comes from Marc Lesser, who wrote “ZBA; The Zen of Business Administration.” The first time I read this pithy book, I sat down and didn’t stop until I’d finished the last page – and I highlighted many passages along the way. I re-read it this week, with just as much pleasure and nodding of my head.

The third event was a conversation I had with admired friends who recently met and talked with the Dalai Lama. The most poignant impression he left with them is one of being “childlike,” they said. That one word said so much to me about the evolved wisdom of this legendary man.

So what do these experiences have to do with executive coaching? Quite a bit.

Consider the shrinking talent pool which concerns any of us who are awake.  Unemployment is low, especially among college-educated people. Those boomers are retiring, just as predicted. Many are moving completely out of the workforce early.  Behind the boomers is a much smaller talent pool. When it comes to attracting talented executives, the pickin’s are gettin’ slimmer. And what is more important to your business than the quality of human beings there?

One element that tends to strengthen commitment to a job is fun. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an executive complain about having too much fun at work. I’ve sure heard the opposite, which sounds something like, “I’m not having much fun any more. Think I might as well leave (the firm, the office, my company) early. It’s getting to be a drag to get out of bed and go there every day.” 

In his book, Lesser mentions, “We’re all beginners, all amateurs at being human, at interacting with others.” In the workplace, we discover tons about ourselves, our talents as well as our blind spots. We learn to love – or hate – our colleagues. And we can learn to include healthy doses of positive humor in our work. I say “positive” because there is a prevalence of unhealthy, negative humor. That’s the humor pointedly critical of the boss, of the organization as a whole, of customers. This humor dresses up as satire and drains energy rather than refreshing us. The side-joke that makes fun of a co-worker, or a whole class of co-workers drains energy and hacks away at any spirit of lightheartedness. Making fun is not having fun.

And having fun – I do believe – is a natural talent. If we let ourselves pay attention, we can easily discover many humorous aspects of any work situation. Lesser writes that the real purpose of business is to be happy and to make others happy. How ‘bout that? 

We all know how bonding it is to connect through “clean,” healthy humor. We all behave regularly in hilarious ways, just making our way through the day. It does take “unloading” ourselves of all the heavy attitudes and taking off the dark glasses, so that we even recognize hilarity when it is in front of us, so that we can laugh out loud at ourselves and our own silly blunders. So that we can create an environment where people know it is safe enough to have fun.


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