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Book review: Fun at Work

Fun Works. Creating Places Where People Love to Work

By Leslie Yerkes

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc

$23.95

A stranger stops me in the frozen food aisle.

"You know who you look like," says the stranger. "That golfer Phil Mickelson."

I hear that a lot. And some folks ask if I’m really Phil, apparently taking a break from the PGA Tour to buy milk and diapers in Hamilton. Yes, I’ve been tempted to play along. Have my photo taken. Sign autographs. Ink endorsement deals and maybe talk my way into a free lunch. But that would be illegal and get me in trouble with the real Phil and his legal team.

Other times, I’m stopped and told I look like the guy who writes book reviews for the newspaper. That’s me, I say. So far no one’s been interested in photos, autographs, endorsement deals or comped lunches. Although I can always count on meeting that stranger who’s just self-published a business book featuring an eclectic cast of fictional characters who meet at a coffee shop and discover the 12 secrets of power selling courtesy of a wise old waitress who has a hugely successful direct mail business on the side.

The first question I get asked is always, "So how can you read all those books?" Which is a polite way of asking, how could anyone in their right mind read so many boring books week after week and year after year? Do you have a life?

The short answer? Because it’s fun. Reading and reviewing business books is a great gig. You get a mountain of free books, a steady diet of big ideas and a cool way to prevent the creative juices from congealing like day-old KFC gravy. Not once has reviewing books seemed remotely like work. And not once have I complained, which to my patient and long-suffering wife qualifies as a miracle equal to seeing the image of the Virgin Mary on a burnt piece of toast. While I’ve had very good jobs the past eight years, nothing’s yet compared to the fun of reviewing business books.

So how much fun are you having with your work? Life is short and most of us spend it at the office. You owe it to yourself and your family to have a good time, says author and consultant Leslie Yerkes. Somehow we’ve managed to pry apart work and fun. If we’re lucky, we get to sit through the decidedly fun-free nanosecond of celebration routine at management and all-staff meetings.

Which is too bad because fusing work and fun has proven bottom-line benefits. "When fun is integrated with work instead of segmented from work, the resultant fusion creates energy, it cements relationships between co-workers and between workers and the company," says Yerkes. "When fun is integrated into work, it fosters creativity and results in improved performance."

Yerkes has come up with 11 principles for achieving that elusive fun/work fusion.

* Give your staff permission to perform by following guidelines rather than consulting the hierarchy before taking any action.

* Challenge your Type A biases, especially the "when the work gets done is when we’ll have some fun" belief.

* Capitalize on the spontaneous because fun doesn’t happen on schedule, by management decree or committee.

* Switch from a task orientation that’s all about control to a process orientation that’s built on trust.

* Value a diversity of fun styles and realize that not everyone is going to laugh at your jokes.

* Expand the boundaries to let in more fun.

* Be authentic.

* Be choiceful and give yourself permission to be your full fun self.

* Hire good people and then get out of the way.

* Embrace expansive thinking and risk-taking.

* And finally, celebrate. Nothing is more fun than celebrating a success or shared win and nothing spins off more energy.

To back up her principles, Yerkes profiles profitable and growing businesses that integrate fun into their day-to-day operations. You’ll find yourself wanting to work at each and every company or at least do business with them.

"No longer is success determined simply by our ability to be smart and strategic," says Yerkes. "We need to create environments which resonate with the workforce, places that are fun to work, situations that fuel deep relationships. To me, the answer is simple: fun works. And it works over and over again."

Jay Robb, a Hamilton freelance writer who’s now having fun blogging, can be reached at jayrobb.typepad.com.

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