What are some ways of making the work environment fun?

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to set up an environment of fun and play for your company.

Here are some ideas:

  • Celebrations. Celebrate business successes and milestones, personal milestones such as birth of a baby, marathons completed. On the business anniversary hold brand-themed days (even if it’s just wearing the brand colours).
  • Themed days. Dress up for national holidays (not just for your nation!) or special occasions, such as St Patrick’s Day or the start of the Olympics. Serve food related to the theme. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top or expensive, just creative.
  • Silly dress days. For example set the last Friday of the month as a silly dress day, even if it’s silly ear-rings or crazy socks.
  • Fun decor. Encourage creative, fun decoration of workspaces, putting things there that lighten their days.
  • Ice cream parties. Throw random ice cream parties. Add balloons and noisemakers.
  • Encourage joke-telling. Maybe even start official meetings with the telling of a joke. Put up a board for people to post their favourite jokes or cartoons.
  • Toys. Have a ready supply of noisemakers or nerf guns or gag joke toys or huge Angry Birds toys. Visit the toy store and look for things which could add some elements of fun.
  • Birthdays. Present gag gifts.
  • Mini-golf. Play mini-golf in the office hallways.
  • Music. Announce the start of meetings with silly or motivational music. Play “The Final Countdown” at the end of an agile sprint, or “The Eye of the Tiger” to announce a meeting.
  • Random lunches. Throw random lunches, such as with pizza or sandwiches, where everyone, including management, takes time out to chat.
  • Contests. Award the best themed costume. Hold a baking contest: see who can bake the best cake. See who can make the best paper airplane.
  • Fun pass. Reward employees with a pass to have fun by _________.
  • Room names. Think of silly names for the meeting rooms.

From ddod

We’re all kids at heart, so think “what would a kid like to do that would be fun?”.

Then there are the more simple things, such as spending a few minutes at the start of Monday to catch up on the weekend’s happenings.

Make the whole environment positive. That may mean changing the music being played in the restrooms. Or adding photos of employees having fun around the walls of the office. Adding colour to the office stimulates creativity (get rid of those neutral walls and colours).

Encourage employees to find their own style of fun – not everyone has to be the same!

Let customers know that you are a fun company, too, and see how you can extend that to dealings with customers or suppliers.

Find out what would be of value to your employees, how they would like to add fun to the work environment.

Commit to fun, to a sense of humour, and look for ways to exercise it at any time. Work towards it, and bit by bit the fun environment will develop.

What’s the value in fun and silliness in the workplace?

In looking at what makes a company good to work for, one value for many companies is “having a sense of humour and fun and silliness”. Doesn’t that mean unproductive time? Why have those companies decided that fun is important? Where’s the ROI on fun?

Providing a fun environment increases happiness, lowers stress and increases morale. Happy people are likely to be more productive, more creative, care more about their work, and less likely to be absent.

If people are more relaxed, they’re also more accepting of others, and feel more free to openly communicate. Inhibitions will fade away. They’ll be more flexible. This all contributes to better teams.

Laughter IS the best medicine. It increases endorphins, exhilarating, increases oxygen in the blood, lowers stress, and builds immunity.

Setting up fun occasions cuts across departments, with people getting to know each other who might never do so. That sets up the environment for improved collaboration, for better problem-solving, for generation of ideas.

Appropriate use of jokes and playfulness can ease tensions, to help mindset changes and viewing problems from different perspectives.

It’s in that environment of openness and lightness that people can be their best. The flip-side of that is if it’s all seriousness, then people burn out, can’t communicate freely, shut down into their little worlds, and just do the minimum required.

Professionalism does not equate with seriousness. It’s more than OK to have fun at work.

“Work hard, play hard” really does work. Having “fun and a sense of humour” as part of the company values helps provide the environment for all of the other values to work.

Does every company need a Culture Chief?

If company culture is so important, not just setting the rules of play for a company, how it is to operate, but this also impacts success of the company, how can a company ensure that those values are being lived out in all the day-to-day operations? Hire a Culture Chief or Happyologist (if the company is big enough, or assign someone that role if not)?

While it is true that company culture has to come from the top, from the founder or executives, they don’t have the time usually to focus on the details needed to have their finger on the pulse of what is going on with company culture nor to work at fostering that. Culture needs to be continually managed and protected.

So what does a Culture Chief do? Every aspect of the company’s operation needs to be considered in terms of the company values. Here are some areas the Culture Chief would be involved in:

  • The hiring process. Even the interview process should be a reflection of the company culture. I’ve read of one case where a whoopee cushion was put on the applicant’s chair to see how they would react. Potential employees need to fully understand the company culture even before coming onboard, to agree with it and agree to uphold those values if hired.
  • Developing employees. In valuing employees, the personal and skill growth of employees, and in what role they’re working, is an important component of the playing out of the company values.
  • Measuring employee satisfaction. Does the employee see the company values played out in their part of the company? Are they happy in their role?
  • Implement the culture in practical ways. That means consistently involving the staff in implementing programs or rituals or practices which add life to the cultural values. If customer service is an important company value, then salute the heroes who provide great customer service. If philanthropy is a company value, then this would mean finding ways to implement that within the company.

This all sounds a lot like what HR does. The difference is that HR is often pre-occupied with forms and ensuring the company follows due legal process according to the local statutory requirements.

One problem with hiring a person for the Culture Chief role is then everyone could think that it’s that person’s job to maintain and grow company culture, but it needs to be realized that culture in the company is everyone’s responsibility. Maybe that means including culture in the KPIs for each employee, not as a stick, but as a way of making it clear that the cultural values are important objectives.

As the company grows, the Culture Chief can’t do it all by themselves, so volunteers throughout the organization are encouraged to step up, and other leaders throughout the organization empowered to keep on encouraging the culture.

It doesn’t have to be expensive to do these things: part of the Culture Chief’s role is to find simple and inexpensive ways of fostering the company’s values.

The Culture Chief needs to be on the Leadership Board of the company, because protecting and encouraging the company values happens in every area of the business.

Without paying attention to whether or not the company values are being lived out and encouraged in the company, there’s no guarantee that the values match reality. If you’re a company founder or executive or leader, how can you ensure your company cultural values are really driving how the business works?


More reading on appointing a Culture Chief:

Why bother making your company a great place to work?

Apart from the feel-good factor, is there any business value in being a good company to work for?

The Great Place to Work Institute has shown that the best companies to work for consistently outperform their competitors. Here are some of their stats to back that up:

  • Best Companies perform three times better than the general market.
  • Great Workplaces provides four times the return.
  • Best Companies experience as much as 50% less turnover.

They say:

Case studies of specific workplaces demonstrate additional, industry-specific benefits, including reduced shrinkage, improved track records on safety, higher patient satisfaction, better quality job applicants, and more.

One company, Baird, are even classing their company culture as a profit center, and that is because Baird’s efforts at developing and protecting its culture has resulted in recruiting better talent, stronger client relationships, resilient employees, and sustained revenue.

Another new study has shown that:

Companies listed in the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” generated 2.4-3.7% a year higher stock returns than their peers from 1984-2009. These results are robust to controlling for risk, firm characteristics, and industry performance, and the removal of outliers. They have three main implications. First, consistent with human relations theories, job satisfaction is positively correlated with firm value and need not represent managerial slack. Second, corporate social responsibility can improve stock returns.

Food for thought, heh?

What makes a company good to work for?

In looking at companies which have philanthropic values, I discovered that a side benefit of that is employee satisfaction. What else contributes to making a company a good employer? Let’s have a look at some who have been on either the BRW Australia’s Top 50 Employer list or the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list, to see what’s common amongst the companies there.


RedBalloon is an experience-based company, offering experiences which people and organizations can give as gifts. It’s continually on the best employers list.

Here are their values:

  • Integrity
  • Generosity
  • Leadership
  • Sense of Humour & Fun
  • Little Dog with a BIG dog personality!

Here is their state ways of creating the employee experience:

  • Welcome: We love to wow our candidates and newbies through our welcome process as it paints a picture for who we are. 1st impressions are lasting.
  • Flow: Our flow of information and communication across the business is key to ensuring everyone is aligned and understands the ‘what, why and how’ we deliver on our purpose.
  • Tools: It’s all about providing our people with the right tools and space to do the job!
  • Grow: Everyone is their own career personal trainer and are provided with the time and resources to make it their reality. We ensure performance is measured, challenged and stretched.
  • Appreciate: We know our people and we work endlessly to create an environment to reward and recognise them. Our key to making it work is being spontaneous and creating an element of surprise!
  • Wellness: We love providing a sense of balance between the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ of work. We create opportunities for our people to volunteer their time and engage in health and wellness.

Their introductory video for employees sums it all up:

The RedBalloon blog has more examples of how these are lived out, and the fun things the company does, as individuals and as a company. Their work hard, play hard approach does seem provide healthy working environment for its employees.


ThoughtWorks is a global IT consultancy, delivering custom software and tools it has developed, providing consultancy services for transforming companies. It has over 1,700 employees around the world.

And then ThoughtWorks’ Values are:

  • Customer commitment – Delighting our customers.
  • Social responsibility – Creating a better world.
  • Uncompromising principles – Respect. Openness. Humanity.
  • Best people – An exceptional community.
  • Fun – Have fun. Be passionate.
  • Entrepreneurialism – Imagine. Pursue.
  • Global – A transnational team.

Here is what ThoughtWorks says about their Company Culture:

Our culture can’t really be explained in a paragraph. We don’t wear suits. (Well, not often.) We work hard and we play hard, we have created an environment where you are working amongst the best, so being ‘top of the class’ isn’t really an option, but being challenged is.

And then ThoughtWorks lists these “cultural characteristics and imperatives”:

  • Do the right thing
  • Attitude, aptitude and integrity
  • Service to others and society over self
  • Solidarity over charity
  • Serve holistic goals over achieving targets
  • Personal and organizational transparency
  • Curiosity, creativity and passion
  • Fail fast and publish our mistakes
  • Intolerant of intolerance
  • No jerks
  • High values alignment, loosely coupled


Google needs no introduction. But what might not be as well known is that Google is considered one of the top employers, in the US and in Australia.

About working for Google in Australia:

And about working for Google more globally:


Zappos is the largest online shoe retailer, also selling clothes. It has been taken over not long ago by Amazon.com. Why has Zappos been one of the top US Employers?

Here are Zappos’ core values:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

And here is their video about all of that:

And a fun video:


Atlassian is a software development company, with offices around the world.

Here are the Atlassian values:

  • Open Company, No Bullshit. Atlassian embraces transparency wherever at all practical, and sometimes where impractical. All information, both internal and external, is public by default. We are not afraid of being honest with ourselves, our staff and our customers.
  • Build with Heart and Balance. Everyday we try to build products that are useful and that people lust after. Building with heart means really caring about what we’re making and doing – it’s a mission, not just a job. When we build with balance we take into account how initiatives and decisions will affect our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.
  • Don’t #@!% the Customer. When we make internal decisions we ask ourselves “how will this affect our customers?” If the answer is that it would ‘screw’ them, or make life more difficult, then we need to find a better way. We want the customer to respect us in the morning.
  • Play, as a Team. We want all Atlassians to feel like they work with Atlassian, not for Atlassian. We think it’s important to have fun with your workmates while working and contributing to the Atlassian team.
  • Be the Change You Seek. We think Gandhi had it pretty right when he said “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world”. At Atlassian we encourage everyone to create positive change – we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our company, our products and our environment.

This is the Atlassian video going into more details about the values:

Then here’s how the company works for its employees:

  • Open and transparent. We tell it like it is, warts and all, and make it a priority to be open with our employees and customers. The truth will set you free.
  • Make that change. New ideas are not only welcome, they’re expected, even if it’s “not your job.” You can be the change you seek in our culture, products, or business.
  • Expand your mind. Work with amazing people doing amazing things. You’ll learn heaps and be challenged daily.
  • Fly free. Between our FedEx Days and 20% time programs, you’ll have plenty of autonomy to work on what *you want* to.
  • Foundation days. Get 5 days off per year (paid) to do charity work of your choosing.
  • Let’s party. End of year scavenger hunts, Friday beer carts, holiday parties, team events… we like working together as much as we enjoy partying together.
  • Team building. Whether it’s just grabbing dinner together or sea kayaking, every team has a budget for some fun team building.
  • Killer setup. A sweet chair, ergonomic workstations, Mac or PC, your choice of OS. Work how you like to.
  • Good on ya, mate. We recognize people for their hard work through a company kudos program, end of year bonuses, our company blog, and stock options.
  • Still here? Pat yourself on the back that you made it this far. (That’s just the kind of perseverance and curiosity we look for in a candidate!)
  • Start refreshed. Did we mention that we’ll send you on vacation before you start the job? Stop reading this list and apply for your dream job now.
  • Bike to work. We’re a bike-friendy bunch. Park your bike in on the ground or on the wall! If your bike needs repair, just ask one of our bike-savvy Atlassians for help.
  • Welcome, Fido. Pooch-friendly office. Especially if your pooch knows how to code.
  • Open office. We hate cubicle farms. Our offices are open, with tons of natural light, and an occasional hip soundtrack.

The “FedEx” days are times set aside for employees to work on whatever they want, skewed towards being connected to products, with the aim of delivering something in 24 hours. Then there’s “20% Time”, where employees spend 20% of their time working on their own ideas.

But wait, there are more perks:

  • Medical, Dental, and Vision coverage… all the stuff you’d expect.
  • Fully stocked kitchen. Food, beer, Red Bull, and other essentials.
  • An office Xbox. With Rock Band.
  • Aeron chair and any other ergonomic accoutrements you need.
  • After 5 years we’ll give you $3,000 to take a vacation.

What lessons can be learnt?

Admittedly this is a short selection out of the 150 or so companies combined on the Australian and US Top Employers list, but there does seem to be a common theme.

The most frequent perks seen include: healthcare, telecommuting, free food and drinks, birthdays off, flexible working hours, letting staff take time off when needed, working from home one day a week, and well-being programs such as gym memberships.

All of these are important, but without a healthy culture, those things fade into insignificance. Some of the cultural values of these top companies include:

  • A sense of humour and fun. The work hard, play hard ethic works! Play encourages creativity, builds relationships, relaxes, and provides the best of environments for work.
  • A positive environment. Appreciating employees, thanking for work well done, encouraging each other, removing cynicism, and creating harmony.
  • Generosity. A generous approach in ealing with each other, throughout the organization, and with customers, being open and honest and humble, with integrity, serving each other.
  • Trust. This flows on from management’s credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly. Time and time again at a recent conference, I heard (even from execs) that people are usually motivated and want to do a good job, so managers should empower employees to get the job done, and then get out of the way. Resist command and control. In this area, as in all, managers lead by example.
  • Passion and determination. Dreaming about what could be done, and having a dogged perseverance to see the work well done.
  • Values philanthropy. As noted in the last post, more and more companies are recognizing the value in giving back to the community, including giving paid days off to employees for helping with charitable organizations, and often by giving cash to charities.
  • Diversity. Valuing the contribution from people of different abilities and strengths helping to round out the organization.
  • Innovation. Related to the “passion and determination” value, is the pursuit of new ideas, new ways of doing business, ways to improve the products / services offered, ways to improve customer service. The company needs to be encouraging every employee to be innovators, to stay fresh and current and continually growing. Curiosity is a closely related value.
  • Communication. Keeping the communication channels open, ensuring that everyone knows what is happening in the company, so they can understand how what they do is part of the whole picture. Managers need to be approachable and transparent for this to work. If managers expect a free-flow of communication back their way, it also has to go the other way, to their staff. Don’t send mixed messages!

What’s missing from these lists? What would you add as priorities for perks offered by a company? What would you add as priorities for the company culture?