I was doing a workshop about having more fun at work when a leader piped up and said, "When the work is done than we can have fun."
First of all, the work will never be done. There is always more work and not enough time to do it - that is a good fortune that keeps people employed. Even more to the point, though, is that this attitude gets in the way of making work enjoyable and fun. Fun is not an add on; fun is not something you do instead of work. It's a way of being. It's who you are when you're working. It's not the prize, but enjoying the work itself.
During my inspirational speech, the point I encourage is to integrate fun into work and don't make it a separate activity or event.
Leaders often make the mistake of thinking they need to entertain staff and be witty and engaging to make the workplace fun, but fun can't be forced. Forcing employees to take part in "fun" (or laugh at lousy jokes) can backfire and be demoralizing.
Fun does not happen on schedule and it is not an event. As a humorous motivational speaker I always find that the funniest parts of an inspirational speech are the spontaneous audience interactions. You can't plan the funniest of funny, it just happens.
Leadership can recognize and appreciate spontaneous humour when it arises. For leadership, encouraging fun at work is to trust your employees to do a good job and let go and let them enjoy the process. People have to feel safe to be themselves to have fun with their work, and management that hovers over employees demoralizes them. Employees who don't feel safe and trusted at work won't love their jobs, and won't be having fun.
As a humorous motivational speaker, I know what needs to be done with any job I take; I know what points need to be made, what not to do, what I shouldn't say and what content needs to be covered. What I don't know is how much permission the audience will give me to be myself and fully perform (leeway that's often dictated by leadership). I remember giving an inspirational speech 5 years ago to a group of very uptight, unreceptive accountants. I know I held back because they wouldn't give me permission to totally be myself and perform.
It's the same with employees at work. People learn to hold back because they know they will be met with skepticism. And than they will question everything that they do, because they do not have permission to bring their whole selves to work and they can't perform. Equally important, the work won't be fun and their productivity will be curtailed.
Work should be an experience, not a routine transaction or a to-do list; leadership needs to get out of the way and let people experience it.
We behave in ways we see others behave, so when employees see a dour, mistrusting leadership approach, they follow suit.