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The Competitive Advantage of Fun. Yes, That's Right: 'Advantage'

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For most people, the concepts of “work” and “fun” just don't go together. Yet, despite that natural divergence, they really should be better aligned -- not for sentimental reasons, but for bottom-line facts.


Related: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google's

According to the Great Place to Work Institute, the statement that most highly correlates to the overall survey question "I consider this a great place to work” is the statement “This is a fun place to work.” While fun may not be the primary driver of a great workplace, Leslie Caccamese, a senior strategic marketing manager with Great Place to Work, says that it is definitely a barometer of one.

How does this relate to the bottom line? Thirty years of on high-trust workplace cultures demonstrates that the hallmarks of great places to work include significantly lower turnover and better financial performance.

So if you really want to know how your company is doing, just ask around to see if employees are having fun. But if the idea of fun still seems too soft, consider the growing body of evidence-based research that proves it is anything but insubstantial.

Look, for instance, at the research reported in The Progress Principle. Authors authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer showed that the best leaders are able to build a cadre of employees who have satisfying inner work lives, and that means, among other things, consistently positive emotions.

To illustrate their point, authors went as far back as the 1980s, where researchers like Alice Isen of Cornell University proved that emotions can directly cause changes in , and more specifically, that happiness actually boosts creativity and effective problem solving.

So, when the pressure is on and your members need to out-innovate your competitors, solve a lingering challenge or just perform to their full potential amidst the everyday onslaught of increasing demands and shrinking resources, why not deliberately introduce a little fun?

Isen and her research team used a five-minute clip of a comedy film to induce positive emotions, which were a springboard for research subjects to accelerate their creativity. Others have tried other strategies: Bryan Black, a partner at Brandfire, and his team took a different route. They started an inter-office daily meme that has literally gone viral.

That exercise started with the team's commitment to “do something creative every day” and eventually morphed into the ritual of posting a new caption and image to Instagram daily. Black’s philosophy is that, “Creativity is an intense, serious undertaking, but at the heart of it, it’s just fun. So, when the competitive juices flow and we push each other to out-do ourselves the next time, it gets better."

Related: The Underrated Value of Fun in the Workplace

But, how does a friendly, inter-office competition via translate to organizational results? According to Black, his company is harnessing the real-time nature of social media, which in turn translates directly to its clients. The heightened capacity to respond to what’s trending is a form of relevance and credibility that clients value. The daily memes keep the team sharp creatively, which translates to the timely, creative executions that clients value.

Surveys show that 88 percent of millennials, the largest generation in the workforce, want a fun and social workplace environment. This isn’t necessarily about a meme contest, bringing your dog to work, riding scooters down the hall or getting exclusive access to novel perks; it goes back to meaning and purpose. And, according to HR blogger Garrett Munston, being surrounded by people that you truly care about is a key to happiness in general, and the socializing and fun time together that results creates a bond and fosters camaraderie, which correlates to the notion of a second family at work.

For busy entrepreneurs and leaders who know they should be catalysts for these types of experiences but don’t know how to pull it off, here are four quick tips for generating the competitive advantage of fun in your workplace.

  • Get to know the individuals on your team, including what they care about and what they like, then give the people what they want (not what you think would be cool).
  • Don’t overcomplicate it, so it feels like just more “stuff” that has to get done. Start simple, with just one or two efforts to get things going, then evolve from there.
  • Get a two-for-one wherever possible. For example, you know you need to thank people for their efforts and express recognition for milestones and team wins, etc. so make those experiences come to life with the infusion of fun.
  • Make these initiatives budget-proof, so that they are not cut the minute times get tough. Even when demands increase or threats from external competitive pressures spike, preserve these “little” things so they can produce their “big” effects.

Related: How to Create a Fun, Positive Company Culture in 7 Easy Steps

It may take some time to see the results of your efforts. And, even if your turnover doesn’t shrink or your financial performance doesn’t rise above that of your peers overnight, at least you’ll still have some fun in the process of getting there.

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