Promote workplace fun this April Fool's Day!

Promote workplace fun on April Fool’s Day, but encourage employees to think carefully before playing pranks. (Photo via Jake Sutton, Flickr)

Workplace fun has proven benefits. It engages employees, builds teamwork and sparks creativity.
But things gets a little trickier on April Fool’s Day. How can employees celebrate a day made for practical jokes without losing focus and productivity?
April Fool’s Day is a hazard in the workplace, if not approached in the right spirit.
Pranks fly — or tank. Either way, they can be a distraction if not planned well. Once we’ve all had a good laugh, who’s going to pop and remove the 600 balloons from the break room, or peel off the aluminum foil that a prankster used to cover every square inch of the boss’ work area? A thoughtless prank can cause serious annoyance and even hurt feelings. On the other hand, an employee or department that isn’t pranked could feel left out of the fun.
Still, the answer to a smooth April Fool’s Day in the workplace isn’t a humorless No Jokes Allowed memo from HR.
To balance workplace fun and productivity on April Fool’s Day, be proactive. Your employees can have fun and get work done on April 1st — read on to find out how.

Workplace Fun: Consider Your Company Culture

How your workplace celebrates April Fool’s Day depends on your day-to-day company culture. To avoid mishaps, it helps to develop a plan for workplace fun and to define general guidelines for employees wanting to play pranks on coworkers.
Miriam Salpeter, a job search consultant in Atlanta, tells USA Today it’s important to understand the culture of your workplace.
“Banking, finance, insurance — these are places where, likely, a prank isn’t appropriate,” Salpeter says. “But if you work in a start-up with a bunch of people who are always having fun, it might be different.”
Obvious no-nos at any workplace are pranks that could be construed as offensive or that interfere with work (i.e., telling a coworker a major meeting was canceled when it wasn’t, or changing a slide in an important PowerPoint presentation).
Encourage employees to keep pranks lighthearted and fun for everyone involved, Salpeter says: “At the end, you want them to say, ‘Good one.'”
A brief meeting or an email to employees before April 1st is good idea, according to Blogging4Jobs‘ Josh Tolan, who wrote about how to “Be Funny Without Damaging Your Company Culture” on April Fool’s.
“Ask employees to first and foremost consider the feelings of their coworkers before devising their pranks. … Also, ask employees to consider their motivations. Is it a lighthearted joke or is revenge the motivation? If it’s the latter, perhaps this is one April Fool’s they should sit out,” he writes.
Once your company-specific guidelines are in place, it’s time to brainstorm ways to have fun while staying respectful and being productive. But first, you may need to rethink the definition of “fun.”

Get Ready to Redefine ‘Fun’

Research shows that workplace fun is important especially to employees in their 20s and 30s, but don’t assume traditional types of “workplace fun” will do.
Shana Lebowitz of Greatist rebuffs a New York Times columnist who dismisses the importance of workplace fun. She defends workplace fun in a blog post titled “My Office Is Awesome: Why Having Fun at Work is a Good Idea.”
“It’s best to be specific about what workplace ‘fun’ actually means,” Lebowitz writes. Putting up funny posters and handing out free doughnuts, for example, may be outdated or misguided ways to promote “fun” at work.
Instead, she says, “it’s possible Generation Y interprets workplace fun as an environment that generally facilitates interpersonal connections.”

Active vs. Passive Fun

April Fool’s Day is a great opportunity to “facilitate interpersonal connections,” to borrow Lebowitz’s phrase.
It’s all about active fun. At its best, April Fool’s Day encourages people to be creative and social together.
Contrast this to examples of passive fun — posters, free food — which simply aim to entertain. Passive fun doesn’t get people playing together.
Approach April Fool’s Day with this in mind. Once your company has prank guidelines in place, brainstorm positive ways to encourage employees to enjoy active workplace fun on April Fool’s Day.

3 Ideas for April Fool’s Day

With the joking spirit of April Fool’s Day in mind, here are three quick ideas for workplace fun that are active and community-building:
1) Plan a lunch-hour office treasure hunt. It involves intrigue, problem-solving and gets everyone working together. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even work with managers to theme the treasure hunt around a real work-related problem that needs solving.
2) Invite in a local improv group to lead a session on improvisation. Learning improv techniques gets people laughing together, but the benefits extend beyond that. Improv skills are relevant in many everyday work situations, including cold-calling, working with difficult customers, defusing tension, taking risks and being flexible. (Check out Shannon Skinner’s HuffPo article “Life Lessons From My Second City Improv Class.”)
3) Organize a volunteer field trip for your team in a nursing home or with kids. Everyone can appreciate telling silly jokes together — old folks have a lifetime of jokes stored up, and kids always tell the best jokes (even if they’re often nonsensical).
Wishing you a fun April Fool’s Day! Make it a “good one” at your workplace.
For more great tips and insights into building a vibrant culture of engagement, respect and appreciation, be sure to download our free eBook, “The Top 20 Employee Engagement Blogs You Should be Reading”.

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