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Making Work Fun...well, more pleasant

By Marty Nemko

Big whoop: your boss comes to the spring picnic dressed as the Easter Bunny. Just as the maraschino cherry doesn’t make a sundae, tacked-on frivolity doesn’t make an enjoyable worklife. These things do:

The right job. Nothing makes your worklife more pleasant than having a good job: a moderate amount of moderately difficult work, a good boss and co-workers, reasonable pay and commute, and a place of employment you’re proud to work for. Your job isn’t anything like that? The most important thing you can do to have more fun at work is to find a better job. Or tweak your job description so you spend more time doing things you enjoy.

Don’t fight work. Many people expend inordinate effort trying to get out of work. Don’t you know people whose most productive at-work activity is shopping online? (Except, of course, when the boss comes by, whereupon they click onto a spreadsheet.) They end up feeling guilty that they’re slackers or terrified they’ll get caught--neither of which is much fun.

Fact is, work is key to the meaningful life, even if you’re just a payroll clerk whose job is to recount the beans counted by a co-bean counter. Most employees don’t check their paycheck’s accuracy--they rely on you to ensure they don’t get screwed. Nearly all ethical work is more fun than not working. At least, think that way.

Give yourself intrinsic rewards. Whatever task you’re doing, ask yourself ‘What’s the most fun way I could do this?” You’ll be surprised how often the fun way is as least as effective as a more painful way.

Give yourself extrinsic rewards. Many of us are motivated by concrete rewards-- how many of us would show up to work every day if we didn’t get paid? But wouldn’t it be more fun if you got paid more than just weekly? Well, you can get “paid” as often as you’d like. For example, why not promise yourself that if you finish that stupid task in 59 minutes or less, you’ll give yourself ten minutes to, for example, flirt in the breakroom. That ticking clock can be fun to compete against.

Threaten yourself with punishment. For example, if you’re a liberal, write a $100 check to the McCain campaign, if you’re conservative, to Obama’s. Give a friend the check. If you haven’t completed the agreed-on-work by the agreed-on time, he mails it. You’ll enjoy your work more knowing you’ll get the $100 back if you get it done and that that good-for-nothing candidate won’t get a dime from you.

Think of difficult problems as challenges rather than annoyances. That’s more fun. Can’t meet a challenge by yourself? Find someone who’d be fun to solve it with.

Think of your worklife as an endless series of choices. Even if you’re a peon with a micromanaging boss, you’re actually the emperor of your (admittedly small) dominion, with many choices: What do I wear today? Which task should I do first? Should I wear headphones? Should I make the report pretty or no-nonsense? Should I spend my break chatting with my honey or schmoozing with someone who might help me get a better job?

Consult this compendium: For a cornucopia of capers and other condiments to catalyze your colorless career, see Leslie Yerkes’ book, Fun Works. But caution: continual cavorting can cause catastrophic calamity, culminating in career carrion. Curses.

500+ of Marty Nemko’s published writings are at

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