The Surprising Science of Having “Fun” at Work

What does it mean to have fun at work? Is this an oxymoron? Or is it the key to a better future at work?

Most leaders don’t have a good sense of humor about creating a fun work environment for their employees. Traditional workplace staples—from blouses and briefcases to bland and sterile cubicles—are far from our ideas of “fun.” On the other hand, while the modern-day fixtures of Silicon Valley startup Darlings — like ping pong tables and beer-on-tap — may be considered fun at first blush, are they really?

in a world where only 20 percent employees Engaged in work, uncovering the science of how to have fun at work is now a business imperative. Intuitively, many leaders recognize the importance of creating a fun environment at work but they struggle with execution. The usual knee-jerk effort of hosting happy hours and setting up foosball tables in the workplace doesn’t cut it.

At Asana Labs, where I work, one of our research areas is focused on better understanding the science behind having fun at work. Our first study, which I led with my colleague Joshua Zerkel, was intended to be a launchpad for future research. This involved asking members of two of our internal teams, “What does having fun at work look like for you?” Analyzing these responses, we found that there is a surprising science behind having fun at work.

Employees want deep fun, not shallow fun.

The first important thing that emerged from our research is that employees see “fun” as closely associated with working on difficult problems. Employees said that, to them, the fun looked like this:

  • Various panel and round table discussions with difficult topics.
  • Work-related, organized and productive brainstorming sessions.
  • To prepare for creative thinking in pairs or as a group.

To better understand this relationship between having fun and solving difficult problems, it is useful to draw a distinction between two different types of fun: deep fun and shallow fun. As done by Adam Grant ExplainedOf course, “shallow fun” includes playing sports at work (such as ping-pong and foosball). In contrast, deep fun involves “working with people who enhance your thinking skills to solve novel, difficult, and important problems.”

Confirming our research, Grant says that deep fun is what you want. As a leader, if your definition of fun at work doesn’t include getting your employees to work on difficult problems that boggle their thinking, it’s time to revise your definition.

Surprise wonder.

The other important thing from our research is a little meta. It turns out that the surprising science of having fun at work involves surprise. Surprisingly many employees associated with having fun at work, such as:

  • Surprise and delight.
  • Going on casual adventures with colleagues during the working day.
  • Random brainstorming session.

How can we explain the relationship between fun and surprise? We can gain some insight from research that has looked at the relationship between surprise and pleasure. Research shows that surprise triggers dopamine – a neurotransmitter often referred to as the “pleasure chemical” – to release in the brain.

a charming study Researchers at Emory University involved squeezing fruit juice into the mouths of study participants. Some participants received juice sips at predictable intervals, while others received squirts at random intervals. When the researchers reviewed MRI scans of the participants’ brains, they found that the unexpected, surprising squirts led to greater dopamine release.

The next time you’re creating a “fun” activity for your employees, consider adding an element of surprise. No, when there are 2 meat poles, no RSVP – just a dopamine-releasing element of surprise.

gift of time

The final conclusion of our research was perhaps the most surprising. We found that some employees associate having fun at work with the gift of time. He combined fun with efficiency, ease, and even fewer meetings. He said that, to him, the fun at work looked like this:

  • Working on efficiently run campaigns or projects.

  • A work environment where employees work more comfortably.

  • Workdays without back-to-back meetings.

This link between fun and the gift of time may be unexpected, but it speaks to the massive famine that employed workers have faced for decades. research Gallup found that 61 percent of working Americans say they don’t have enough time to do everything they want to do every day.

Our research shows that, even with great intentions, creating a fun workplace can be challenging when employees are swimming in meetings, have workplace inefficiencies, and are overwhelmed. Bob Sutton and Lady Klotz’s excellent research on friction and subtraction value It can help to lay the foundation so that you can have fun in your workplace.

Not oxymoronic anymore.

“Fun” and “work” don’t need to be oxymoronic. Quite the contrary, having fun at work is the key to increasing employee engagement, which, in turn, can positively impact your bottom line, It’s time to embrace the secret science of having fun at work.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.