How Important Is Workplace Fun to Employees?

Fun and enjoyment is a great nice-to-have in the workplace, but nothing reigns supreme over respect.

I have experienced workplaces that hosted happy hours for employees and even one that provided a complimentary coffee bar. Do those things constitute fun? They do. And those types of things are just the tip of the iceberg for some companies, which also offer amenities such as game rooms for employees to take fulfilling (albeit brief) breaks from work. Once you acknowledge that all those things are fun, the next question is: How important is fun to employees?

A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia, which Science News summarized, highlights the greater importance young employees place on respect. A quote shared on the Science News site is illuminating: “Millennials have been called the ‘entitled generation,’ and they kind of give young workers a bad rap because their often-publicized interests began with wanting to have fun in the workplace, but today’s young workers have shifted toward interest in doing valuable work and finding meaning in their day-to-day job functions,” notes Danielle LaGree, an assistant professor of Strategic Communication at Kansas State University, who earned her doctorate at the Missouri School of Journalism.

I am reminded of the importance of being taken seriously as an intelligent person, even if you are young or have a racial or gender profile the executives of a company are not accustomed to seeing as high potential. A huge part of respect is judging employees based solely on their work performance, rather than making presumptions about their career path. I was overlooked for a promotion—which I ultimately ended up getting because I protested before it was too late. I hadn’t known the promotion opportunity was available until the job opening was announced publicly. I thought my strong work performance and my expressions of interest in progressing at the company were understood, so I was surprised at being initially overlooked. This is probably a common story, one that may be happening at this moment in your own organization in more than one department. You could call this oversight the result of managerial negligence. However, I would connect it to a lack of respect. When you respect an employee, not just as an individual, but as an intelligent person filled with potential, you remember to communicate to that individual opportunities for career growth.

A fun workplace can claim to “respect” employees by offering them an enjoyable workplace and perks such as flexible schedules and afterhours fun, but unless managers communicate with employees to find out their career aspirations and then make them aware of new opportunities, the fringe benefits become unimportant compared to what’s lacking.

Indeed, the study found a heightened need for better communication between managers and employees: “While previous studies have reported leaders and managers spend 70 to 90 percent of their time communicating, LaGree believes this study shows more emphasis needs to be placed on training leaders and managers on how to be effective communicators and convey respectful communication with their employees.”

That communication, which goes hand-in-hand with respect, would include informing employees of new corporate projects that impact their work. It’s not unusual for a manager, who does not excel at communication, to inform an employee of a new project only after the project’s plans have been finalized. What if that manager instead brought the project to the employee when it was in the planning stage, and informed the employee they would be expected to play a role in the execution of the project, and for that reason, wanted to get the employee’s input about what role they would like to play? The employee may surprise the manager and ask for a leadership role, or may let the manager know they feel overwhelmed, or lack interest in the project, and would only like to play a supporting role. Either way the employee will feel a heightened sense of respect because the manager cared enough, and thought enough of them, to ask how they would like to participate.

I was brought in as a supporting player on a project I wasn’t told about until the last minute. Worse yet, this was a project I believed I should have been the lead on. How much could this manager respect me as an intelligent, capable person who has good judgement and insights if I was never given an opportunity to express my desire to lead the project? I was presumed to be a supporting, “workhorse” player, though the person made the lead was co-equal to me in the corporate hierarchy.

Fun and enjoyment is a great nice-to-have in the workplace, but nothing reigns supreme over respect. An essential part of respect is communicating enough to know where employees see themselves in the organization, where they would like to go, and all the opportunities along the way that open up to get them there.

Do you train your managers to keep employees informed of new developments, including opportunities for career growth? Do you think there is a link between communication and showing respect?