Work Can be Fun

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

Grant Johnson is the owner of Brookfield-based Johnson Direct LLC, but his unofficial title at his company is ambassador of fun.

“When I started the company, the directive that I set out was, regardless of what we do, to make sure we have fun and are incorporating fun,” Johnson said.

For his direct marketing firm, fun means a flow of ideas, creativity, a flexible workplace and better results for clients.

“It is about passion,” Johnson said. “Passion where someone says, ‘I want to do not good but a great job for clients. I really want to help this nonprofit make more money, I really want to help this client.’”

A healthy internal corporate culture can generate a return on investment for a business, according to Karen Vernal, president of Milwaukee-based Vernal Management Consultants LLC.

“I think that whatever we can do to invite joy makes a difference, not just in what we are doing, but how we are doing it,” Vernal said. “I think that can take lots of different forms.”

Vernal helps many companies improve their corporate cultures.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) in Milwaukee has a playroom with darts and other games, and employees are encouraged to take a five-minute break and play cards or give themselves time to recharge their focus, Vernal said.

Milwaukee-based Catholic Knights has a designated room with fuzzy slippers, stress balls and other creative toys, Vernal said. When executives meet for planning meetings, they take off their shoes, put on fuzzy slippers and sit in rocking chairs, she said.

One of Vernal’s own past employees kept a box of sand and beach stones in one of her drawers. When she needed to think of a new creative idea for the company’s communications initiatives, she would turn on Calypso music, throw off her shoes, put her feet in the sand and take herself to the beach.

“Culture in any organization is really set by the leadership, so in situations where the business owner wants to be able to change the culture of an organization, I really encourage the leader or business owner to bring together other leaders and invite conversation on what can be done differently to provide an atmosphere of a more satisfying workplace,” Vernal said. “But if the workplace is filled with mistrust, it can be very difficult to turn around. The first step would not be fun, but to create an environment where people feel valued and emotionally safe.”

A fear-based workplace can only do harm for a company’s employee morale and bottom line, according to several business consultants.

Even implementing a corporate wellness program requires a particular company culture, said Connie Roethel, president of Mequon-based Complementary Health & Healing Partners.

“If people are surrounded by an unhappy or toxic work environment, business owners might as well put their wellness dollars somewhere else,” Roethel said.

When an individual is unhappy going to work every day, the dread of going to work and being at work can eventually translate into chronic disease, including difficulty sleeping, depression, hypertension and overeating, Roethel said.

“Workload expectations,” Roethel said. “If individuals know that in a normal eight-hour work day that it will actually take 10 or 12 hours to accomplish the work assigned to them, it can cause physical and emotional exhaustion.”

Roethel suggested that companies start by opening the doors of communication so that employees feel comfortable communicating openly and respectfully with each other. Business owners can create a more relaxed atmosphere, especially in a stressful work environment, by providing flexibility in job descriptions, she said. The flexibility allows for employees to have nontraditional work hours to spend more time with their families or to make time for exercise.

“Whether it is a simple survey to actually having departmental meetings where employees are asked for their ideas and suggestions about company policies, people generally support what they help create,” Roethel said. “If they have more input in something, they are more likely to support the organization when they have helped create the ideas and the business decisions.”

Johnson said companies benefit when their employees are happy and dedicated to serving clients.

As the baby boom generation retires and a smaller generation takes its place in the workforce, businesses will have even more trouble recruiting and keeping competent employees, consultants say.

In the past, it may have been taboo to have an open and enjoyable workplace, because employers did not want the reputation of being unprofessional, Johnson said. However, times are  changing. Generation Y is driving the workforce to be more accommodating and laid back, and many companies are responding to the demand, he said.

“More business leaders could certainly learn to appreciate that in the end, the bottom line will be enhanced if they create work environments where people find joy,” Vernal said.

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