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What “Having Fun At Work” Really Means in 2021

This article was based on episode 165 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get a free copy of Work Made Fun Gets Done! when you become a member at

The sad truth is that 85% of employees feel overworked and underappreciated. That’s a lot of unhappy employees! If we don’t help our team members feel more recognized and recharged at work, they’re going to start looking for jobs elsewhere. But fun at work is tricky. Not every company is going to be up for the stereotypical ping pong table and free beer. And not everyone would want that. Everyone has their own version of fun.

To figure out how to navigate delivering fun at work, I spoke with Dr. Bob Nelson and Mario Tamayo, co-authors of Work Made Fun Gets Done! Easy Ways to Boost Energy, Morale, and Results. Dr. Bob is considered the leading advocate for employee recognition and engagement worldwide. He has worked with 80 percent of the Fortune 500 and presented on six continents. Mario has been training, coaching, and consulting with individuals and teams in leadership and communication skills since the late 1970s and is principal of the Tamayo Group, Inc consulting firm.

Bob and Mario share their lessons learned to help managers figure out how to increase the fun for their team, even if you’re working remotely.


Before we dive into team fun, think about ways to use daily Fun Habits to change your own experience at work. Mario spoke about an employee who listened to a Yo-Yo Ma concert to inspire her while she worked. While not everyone would think of that as fun, for this individual, it enriched her work experience and put her in a good mood.

Mario suggests each person think about what excites them. You can create a daily Fun List in addition to a To-Do List, with at least one fun thing you can do each day to create more joy in your life. If you’re stuck with tasks that feel like a chore, which we all have, plan a reward for yourself so you can have something to look forward to. (Chocolate is one of my favorite rewards to motivate myself when I’m feeling sluggish.)


Before planning a fun event for your team, you need to figure out what your people actually find enjoyable. The best way to do that is to ask. Bob and Mario suggest sending an online survey asking your team what they would like to do. You can ask for suggestions as well as include a variety of options. Some organizations form a “Fun Committee” (also known in many workspaces as a “Culture Committee”) whose responsibilities include planning fun events based on employees’ requests.

Dr. Bob and Mario gave me a few stellar ideas for fun team building from their research and interviews. Two in particular stood out for me:

  • Give each person fifty dollars during the holidays to go out and buy something for themselves. After shopping, they return to the office and explain what they bought and why.

  • After a new team member joins, each existing team member signs up to take them out to lunch one day during their first few weeks in the office.

The most effective fun events at work are often low or no cost. It just requires some creative planning and collaboration.


In addition to fun events that promote team bonding, recognition is a crucial reason employees associate work with joy and belonging. Bob shared what he describes as The Greatest Management Principle In The World, which is “what gets recognized gets repeated.” When we catch our employees in the act of doing something right and bring it to their attention, they are more likely to repeat these good acts going forward. Genuine praise for our colleagues’ work creates stronger bonds and encourages them to work harder.

There are many ways to recognize our employees and like fun, different people find different forms of recognition more meaningful. It can be helpful to ask each person how they like to be recognized. Regardless of the form, make sure that any praise is related to an action so that it feels authentic.

In addition to recognition from you, encourage your whole team to acknowledge each other. For example, during a team meeting, have your team go around and share what they appreciate about each colleague. I did this with one team I work with and it was a deeply meaningful team experience.


Just because your team can’t get together in person doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. While it may take some extra creativity, you can program fun moments into your virtual meetings. For example, ask people to share photos of their favorite vacations or do a home tour. You can also put your pets on your lap and introduce them to each other via Zoom. For recognition, Mario spoke about a company that used virtual “praise buddies” so that everyone was assigned to keep track of all the great things another colleague was doing and share that with the team. Remember, what gets recognized, gets repeated.

Creating a fun atmosphere for a diverse team is possible. You don’t have to revert to ropes courses or Silicon Valley style nerf wars. By engaging your whole team in the process of bringing more fun and recognition into the workday, you are ensuring your employees feel deeply valued as they are having fun. The more work is seen as an enjoyable, rewarding place, the more your team will want to stay and give it all they have. So what are you waiting for? Go have some fun!



Get a free copy of Work Made Fun Gets Done! when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 165 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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