Is it possible to have fun at work? There are two ways to think about this. One school of thought says, no way. Think nose to the grindstone, pedal to the metal (although that could be fun, depending on the setting) or when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
How many of us have experienced the dread of Sunday evening, when what could be a pleasant ending to a restorative weekend instead is overshadowed by the prospect of the perpetual difficulties awaiting us on Monday morning? And we tell ourselves, “That’s why they call it work.”
The second school of thought decrees, “No, no, no, work can and should be fun!” A lightness of spirit will dispel those difficulties and we can skip through our workdays with a sense of mirth. Those who have the most fun get the most done, right?
Here is what I do know. The element of surprise is what makes work lively and energizing, if not downright fun. If we head into work every day looking for fun, I am afraid we’ll be disappointed. If instead we head into work every day with the intention of doing what we’re there to do, and we encounter some surprises along the way, well, that’s the best of both worlds.
A true story
In a former life, I ran a commercial bakery, a food manufacturing business. There are a few things to know about running a commercial bakery, and one is that when you are working with raw dough, just about anything can happen. Especially when you are working with say, 30,000 pounds of raw dough on a daily basis.
One day, I was informed that several birds had gained access to the plant, and were darting about among the beams and horizontal stacks that made up the plant’s ventilation system. So my first discovery of the day was that when birds invade your plant, you call your pest control people. That was done, and soon arrived two uniformed pest control technicians, carrying BB guns.
My second discovery of the day was that I needed to make a decision…should I allow the technicians to shoot the birds with pellets, or should we string up nets to capture the birds and set them free? “So they can come into the plant again?” I asked.
Having determined to go forward with shooting the birds, I went through the plant, explaining to the employees (using broken Spanish, flapping my arms in imitation of a bird, then mimicking shooting a rifle while saying “muerto, muerto” ) what was about to happen. Apparently I got the message across, as employees scanned the ceiling and prepared to duck.
Ready, aim, fire
I gave the order to fire. Employees had been instructed to watch for any falling pellets, especially those landing in raw dough. (Who likes finding BB pellets baked in their hamburger buns? Who likes being told that customers had found BB pellets baked into the hamburger buns produced by the food manufacturing facility for which one is entirely responsible?)
One of the pest control technicians located a bird, took aim and fired. It fell dead on the production floor and was quickly scooped up by the other technician in a body bag for birds. Proper sanitation procedures were then followed.
The second bird took cover somewhere. After a while, we spotted it. Again the technician took aim and fired.
He missed the next three times, too. (In the pest control technician’s defense, I cannot imagine that he had a lot of practice shooting birds inside a food production facility; he told me afterwards it happens more often than one might think). Here is a poem I wrote to commemorate that day.
It took five tries.
It took some lead.
But finally, that bird was dead.
At the end of the day, I went home with yet another story to tell the kids. Did I start the day looking for fun? Hardly. Along the way, though, fun and its constant companion, surprise, had once again found me.