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Ex-manager reveals how to make your workplace fun without attracting HR

It’s important to bring stress relief to those under your command in creative ways. Like watching them sleep.


When you’re at work, you’re surrounded by an array of personalities who have been pulled together over time in pursuit of company goals. Even when everyone is focused on the same corporate mission, there are going to be differences of opinion about the important stuff. Like balancing purpose with profit. Or whether it’s fun to be shot with foam darts.

Some people want to work in complete silence, smashing through their to-do lists and pausing only for a protein shake and quick glance out the window. Some people want to get up every 20 minutes, have a chat with their colleagues and collaborate on picking lunch options – hello, Gen Y and Gen Z. Most people fall along a spectrum between this pair, leaning one way or another.

For example, you might love to have the radio on so everyone’s enjoying the same songs, news and DJ patter. Or maybe you’re more inclined to have Noisli playing through your noise-cancelling headphones to keep you awake but not distracted.

Work relief starts with you

When you’re running an office, it’s important to bring stress relief to the people under your command in a variety of ways. It starts with you and with the energy you bring to your immediate area. If you act like what you’re all doing every day is worthwhile, that’s contagious. If you’re a sullen lump clearly waiting for a lateral move to a better silo, that’s also catching. And it’s the same way with bringing the fun.

I’m not talking about enforced group therapy sessions masquerading as bonding exercises where you have to build a tower out of toilet rolls to discover that teamwork makes the dream work. I’m talking about the spontaneous fun that can happen in an office when the groundwork has been laid. Like coming out of your office to fire three quick foam rounds at the back of your IT guy’s head, because you and he are locked in endless combat. Or trying to land bottle caps into a desk bin from a decent way back, and you buy the winner lunch. Or starting an email-based punning competition that has the whole place groaning.

These kinds of activities break up the day and, used wisely, can make an office seem like a great place to be, even when external stresses are making life harder than usual.

You can’t ‘fun’ them all

Some readers will hate all three examples of ‘fun’ that I mentioned up there. For them, there’s nothing worse than everyone playing games when they’re trying to get this email sent before 2pm and it’s a tangled web of tricky politics. As the boss in this situation, you have to make judgement calls on what’s appropriate, and really make an effort to read the room before you kick off with some levity.

Take it from a former manager who once watched someone slice up a foam bullet with a pair of scissors because he was shot in the stomach and did not enjoy it. One. Bit.

No one loves the fun police, but no one loves a serial distractor too.

Read next: Removing the barriers to workplace collaboration

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