2247612573_9411a4c304_o(1)Don’t get me wrong.  I’m pretty good humored.  I’ve been known to have fun.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in a few conversations about workplace fun.

Some leaders feel pressure to create a “fun” work environment, create “fun” activities — even to budget for “fun”.

At work, fun is never as simple as it looks.

Fun is subjectiveThere’s a wide range of what people consider to be “fun.”  (Aww!)  I’ve golfed.  Done the Electric Slide.  Baked in the sun at a ballgame.   Not fun.   Some people (not me!) probably don’t love office yoga.

Skillful attention when hiring can help you to assemble a team that’s likely to enjoy the same activities.   Is this your highest priority?   I’ll come back to that.

Context matters.  If you’ve been tight with comp, bellyaching about your burn rate, or otherwise sharing your organization’s financial stress, people will wonder why you have money for that team kayaking trip.

And trust me, some will grouse.  Especially those who find wet hair and fun to be mutually exclusive.

Fun isn’t the first order of business in Maslow’s hierarchy.  How much fun would you have if you felt like your job was on the line?  If you didn’t feel appreciated or respected?

Security, a sense of belonging, and esteem are prerequisites to fun at work.

(Yes, Maslow’s hierarchy has critics.  My view:  it’s shorthand, and a useful framework for what people need to be productive and happy at work.  Don’t overthink it.)

So, don’t have fun at work?   That’s not what I mean.

That half marathon I ran with bschool classmates, mostly in the rain, wasn’t really fun.  Running an hour a day to train, not always fun.   Trying to figure out how to consume enough calories to run for an hour a day, sometimes vexing.

Training with our motley crew, finishing just about on pace and in good shape, breakfast after the race with my friends?   And the satisfaction of having achieved a goal:  fun.

Fun is a result, not a goal.

Create an environment where people treat one another with respect.  (Hire for that!) Give people purposeful work with clear objectives.  Acknowledge when people meet or exceed their goals.   Then, fun will happen.

And when you want to cut loose with the team, be sure to pick something that truly appeals to everyone.  It takes some consideration:  yes, we all eat.   But that dinner out could stress out the dad who’s missing a dance recital.  Or the 12-step program participant who’s watching people drink shots.

So be mindful:  your actions will always be subject to people’s evaluation.   And your actions will speak louder than your words.

Photo:  Fun, by Mark Roy, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.