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Instead of working for a living, how about having fun for a living? Even if you don’t love every aspect of your job, it’s important to remember to incorporate fun in your workday - for you and for your colleagues.

The world has become a pretty negative place of late. I suppose it was always there, but now with 24/7 news and social media at our fingertips, the negativity seems to be growing exponentially. Along with negativity is a growing sense of seriousness. Where’s the silliness? The humor? The lightness of heart? As park district professionals looking for ways to deal with burnout and staff turnover, you can start by focusing on improving your culture and work environment.

Research shows the many benefits of humor and levity for people’s mental and physical health. And this is true for the workplace as well. Start with incorporating fun into your agency to promote the well-being of your employees. Then take it to your community as a team. Fun is infectious and I believe you will be surprised at how quickly it catches on.

In their book, Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth and David Wolfe demonstrate the financial benefits organizations can reap by making sure they have a culture that includes fun. Look at Southwest Airlines for the perfect example, “Southwest’s employees are introduced to the positive contribution that humor can make to easing customer’s anxieties as well as to making work more fun.” The antics by Southwest employees are legendary and create incredible brand loyalty.

So, it’s good for your team and it’s good for the bottom line – but how do we do it? Even in a “fun” industry like ours, we can all use a reminder to lighten up. Make humor a priority in your interactions with your team and transform your culture into one where people not only want to work but want to spread the love to others as well.

Put Fun on the Agenda

You’ve heard the saying, “Work Hard – Play Hard”. It’s well known that taking breaks can actually make you more productive. Your brain needs down time in order to perform at its best. Schedule some time for your team to bond over a fun activity or friendly competition. We do a monthly staff huddle that includes both work and fun on the agenda. Game ideas include “Two Truths and a Lie”, “Would you Rather?” and “Never Have I Ever…”. We not only end up laughing a lot, but we learn more about each other as well.

It's important to be consistent and incorporate your whole team. The work environment won’t change overnight. And with many teammates working outside the office, you will need to make an effort to be inclusive. Include a mix of activities and humor in communications. Sign off team emails with a joke. Think about what makes you laugh and share it with your colleagues. If you spend some time brainstorming ideas, you can surely think of some new ways to bring fun to your team. Then enlist others to do the same. When you find something that works, we’d love to hear about it on IPRA Connect.

Use Levity of Voice

In our office we have one person that always finds the perfect meme to post on our Teams discussions. It threads humor throughout the workday. One of the priorities I communicated to my staff when I started this position was that I wanted us to laugh every day. It seems like a “fluffy” requirement, but if you make fun a priority, your staff will feel more comfortable incorporating fun themselves. It lightens the mood in the office and greatly reduces the overall stress level.

Look for opportunities to use that levity in outside communications as well. Can you find some fun facts to post on social media? Or incorporate a contest for your residents? Where else can you provide opportunities for your community members to really enjoy themselves? Oftentimes we are focused on public health or education, which are vital aspects of our mission, but there’s always room for more amusement in the world.  Build a “fun space” and the community will come.

Lead by Example

If you are stressed, rushed or overly serious, your staff will not only pick up on that, but feel the same by association. There will always be a budget shortfall, a disgruntled resident or graffiti on the new playground. Don’t let those challenges alter your demeanor. The people around you will mirror your mood, so start by taking deep breaths, relaxing and showing up every day with a great attitude. Fun and laughter are both contagious. Show your staff you can enjoy work and even poke a little fun at yourself. And then your newly energized staff will provide an example for your residents.

When’s the last time you visited your parks? Or the facilities of neighboring districts? Take some time to play on the swings like when you were a child and experience the enjoyment you bring to those in your community. It’s a great reminder of your mission and how having fun can make you feel.

In an article for Harvard Business Review entitled “Why Work Should Be Fun”, author Bob Nelson advocates for the importance of fun by stating, “Though fun at work is sometimes thought to be a distraction, research suggests that it has a positive impact on engagement, creativity, and purpose — increasing employee retention and reducing turnover.” Keeping your employees and community happy is certainly going to produce dividends for your agency, but more importantly, in a world where we should all take better care of each other, it is also just the right thing to do.