Laughing matters

In his classic Up the Organization, Robert Townsend asked: “If you’re not in business for profit or fun, what the hell are you doing there?”

The only problem with this premise is the implication that “profit” and “fun” are mutually exclusive. Not so, say Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher in The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which argues that employees will bust their butts if occasionally they’re busting a gut.

Seriously. (So to speak.) There are even numbers to support this premise:

On Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” produced by the Great Place to Work® Institute, employees in companies that are denoted as “great” responded overwhelmingly — an average of 81 percent — that they are working in a “fun” environment. That’s a compelling statistic: Employees at the best companies are also having the best time.

They’re also making the most money for their stockholders: for the period 1998-2006, for example, those “100 Best” outperformed the S&P 500 by 78 percent.

In addition to case histories at companies big and small, The Levity Effect lists “142 Ways To Have Fun At Work.” If you tried all of them, I suspect you’d never get any work done at all, but what if you tried none of them? You’d have a pretty dour bunch of folks and a burgeoning employee-retention problem. From the chapter “Overcoming Objections to Levity,” the response to “We don’t have time for fun around here”:

By now, it should be obvious that you don’t have time to not have fun. If you want to have a productive, creative, and engaging work experience, you must find the time to cut loose a little. It’s that simple. If you don’t, you’ll end up burning your people out; you won’t get their best work, and you’ll lose them to competitors.

The Levity Effect is not a call for corporate slapstick, though an occasional pratfall is always worth a chuckle or two. But if you’re the perennial brow-knitter who always finds the cloud in front of the silver lining, it’s way past time you lightened up.

There is, of course, a Web site.

(Review copy furnished by author’s representative.)



  1. Lynn »

    6 September 2009 · 9:38 pm

    I’m tempted to send that (anonymously of course) to a certain former employer of mine.

  2. unimpressed »

    7 September 2009 · 9:21 pm

    If he’s a -former- employer, why would you need to send it anonymously? It isn’t like you are wanting to keep that job…..

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