Immediately before the pandemic, we held a party for a colleague who was retiring. She and I had worked together for 30 years. I created a list of the funny things that had brought us together, separated into decades. Yes, hiding a lobster magnet around Town Hall (once sending it to Florida in a co-worker’s golf bag) seemed hysterical at the time. And what about when I accidentally videotaped (yes on a VCR, look it up on Wikipedia) an episode of “Designing Women” over the daring rescue of a deer in a river by the Town’s Animal Control Officer?
One time the Park & Recreation Department got a huge shipment of coloring books and we sat around a table on our lunch hour coloring for weeks. I repeat, we took an hour off during the day for what used to be called a “lunch hour.” When was the last time you did that?
Most of these antics were only understood by the two of us, yet the assembled well-wishers all laughed along. A more recent colleague turned to me and said “Wow, you used to have fun here.” It does feel like the Pandemic has stolen all the fun and left only the heavy, soul crushing work. But I think fun was on the decline before that. I’m not sure why this is, although I know in years when there was a “fun champion” in our building, there was more opportunity to gather and enjoy each other’s company. We used “wellness” funds for cookouts, we held Super Bowl and World Series parties, we created a Town employee golf tournament.
When did this business get so serious that many employees are carrying some form of depression or anxiety?
Play researcher Brian Sutton-Smith pioneered the notion that the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression. Many researchers and authors are now promoting play in the workplace. Stuart Brown, Author of the Book Play, notes that “taking time off to play does not mean you shirk your responsibilities, or that you aren’t a good parent or a good productive citizen. In fact, it’s just the opposite: your level of agitation drops when you get playful, which tends to increase perseverance and mastery. Play has a real payoff.”
Which brings us to my beloved Mary Poppins, who famously sang:
“In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.
And every task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree!”
I am on a mission to inject some play into our work this summer. We need to start small. My younger daughter’s workplace has a “magic table” where staff put left over cake, small appliances, and other miscellany. Everything on the magic table is fair game. I recently switched up my laundry routine and couldn’t bear to throw away mostly full bottles of detergent. Thinking of the magic table, I put them on a counter in our lunch room and someone was able to use them. We are planning an official launch of the “Magic Counter,” and will track the most unusual items that get transferred.
Another small effort is to recognize the fatigue that sets in when Town Hall is open one late night in the summer to allow staff to leave early on Friday. We recently started a “Tasty Tuesday” program, and our office will provide ice cream treats at 5:15. We challenged all of the offices to sign up for a Tuesday. It’s not exactly Town employee night at the pool, but it’s a start!
What about you? What is the most fun thing you have done at work this year? Have you incorporated play into your office? Do you have any ideas to share with the rest of us?!
Let’s Practice, spoonful of sugar in hand.