The Underrated Value of Fun in the Workplace

The Underrated Value of Fun in the Workplace
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To me, it’s striking how teachers and schools spend so much time figuring out how to engage students, while businesses do nothing similar for their employees. That's why more attention should be paid to curing workplace boredom. It’s an insidious, pervasive problem in offices around the world.

Related: Want to Be Successful? Have Fun. Seriously.

When only 31.5 percent of U.S. workers say they are engaged by their work, we’re clearly doing something wrong. Yet so few of us seem to care. 

We should. Aside from a lower-than-desired salary, boredom at work is the number one reason most people say they dislike their jobs. It’s why 68.5 percent of full-time American workers are not enjoying most of their waking hours.

When you're older and look back on your life, do you really want to say that you were simply bored at work all the time? Here are five ways you can avoid that regret and beat workplace boredom:

1. Liven up your commute.

Whenever I go into the city, my subway commute is about an hour. While most people zone out, listen to music or sleep, I read my Kindle. I’m not a morning person, so this low-intensity stimulation helps set the tone for the rest of my workday. By the time I show up at the office, I’m not tired and groggy -- I’m awake and engaged.

If you don’t like to read novels or nonfiction, that’s fine. Listen to a podcast, learn a language from an app or even play a mobile game. Do something active, not passive. Considering that the average American spends more than 100 hours each year commuting, we might as well make the most of lost time.

2. Negotiate your meeting times and agendas.

An advantage to running your own business is that you aren’t forced to enter the revolving door of the meeting room. Calls for my new business are usually 30 minutes in length, and meetings with my partner take place throughout the day, but typically take 10 to 15 minutes each. Everything else happens over email.

It really makes you wonder why meetings ever last up to an hour in the first place.

If you can’t afford to dictate when your meetings happen and how long they last, learn to negotiate. Talk to your manager about how long your daily or weekly meetings should be, and agree on the agenda beforehand so no time is wasted.

Related: 5 Strategies to Build a Fun Work Culture That's Also Productive

3. Give yourself 20 percent time.

Speaking of negotiating, Google’s [in]famous “20 percent time” policy does have its merits. This term refers to a 2004 statement by Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin that said, "We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google."

So, take that advice yourself. If you often find yourself browsing through YouTube or Facebook, ask your manager for some time each day, even just one hour, to work on a cool project. You can focus on learning a new skill, launching a new company initiative or just figuring out how to make your current job (the other 80 percent of your work week) more engaging.

I’m not ashamed to admit I give myself “40 percent time” to do productive things not directly tied to working for my clients. Like writing this post, for example.

4. Take more [bathroom] breaks.

Sometimes I poke fun at my alma mater, Amherst College, and joke that my English major didn’t teach me anything about what I do for a living. But, if I’m honest, Amherst taught me how not to be bored. When I really think back on my professional failures and successes, that's been the most precious lesson of all.

Sure, my grades weren’t great: I spent far more time hanging out with friends, playing video games and chasing girls than studying -- but I wasn’t bored. So, to keep that feeling alive at work, I try to take a 30-minute break every two hours to do something fun before putting my nose back to the grindstone.

5. Quit while you’re ahead.

If all else fails, quit your job. Whether or not you should depends on your priorities in life. Do you value stability and predictability? Or do you love achieving your goals?

If you can’t stomach the thought of sitting in on another pointless meeting, or wish you were anywhere but at your desk each day, the decision shouldn’t be difficult. Being fired from my last full-time job and starting my own business was the best professional decision I ever made.

Related: 3 Fun But Unorthodox Employee-Motivation Hacks

Don’t let your fears hold you back. Quite frankly, you should be more afraid of being bored at work than just about anything else.