You’re Not Going to Have Fun Reading This

You’re probably not going to like this; it’s not a popular opinion.

There’s no such thing as work/life balance. There is only life, and it’s our life’s work to live it.

Couldn’t we just as easily call it hobby/life balance? Family/life balance? Volunteer/life balance? At what point is what we do or how we spend our time no longer considered life? If work doesn’t count as life, what does? And if work isn’t life, what is it? And what are you while you’re working? Are you even alive?

For many of us, we spend more of our waking hours working than any other activity or pursuit; does all that investment of time and energy not count as life? If not, we’ll spend most of our lives not living.

Advice: if you’re at work and you’re thinking “life” is something that happens later, out there in the middle distance between the time you punch out and the time you punch back in, you’re doing life wrong. You’re in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Do yourself and the people around you a huge favor: quit. Find a place where you can feel alive while working.

It’s not possible to carve out and isolate and compartmentalize life; it’s a myth popularized by people who fail to understand that everyone is given a life, but it’s our responsibility live every piece of it—even work.

The notion is born out of good intention, but it misses the point entirely. Proponents of the work/life balance myth argue that, at work, you belong to someone else. Your time belongs to someone else. Often, the best of you is spent advancing the purpose of someone else. And you must wait to belong to you, to your purpose, to the things that bring you joy, until work concludes. Only then can you live. But again, if you’re dividing life between doing things that bring you joy and give you purpose and those things that don’t, you’re doing life wrong. And if you you’ve lumped work into the “not bringing me joy” category, you’re doing work wrong.

All is not lost if you find yourself in this headspace. Oscar Wilde is often credited with writing, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” I agree, and because work is part of a fully-realized life, work is too important to be taken seriously.

Case in point: this is Tim.

Tim is a leader here at Quantum, and he knows how critically important it is to have fun. At work. He encourages it among those he leads. He leads by example. He models fun because some of us have forgotten what it looks like and how to have it. He knows that joy-filled work is part of living a joy-filled life, not separate from it, and our work is far too important to forget it.

Sadly, we’ve diminished the role of fun in life as frivolous and better left for those who don’t have the good sense to pursue purpose.

As children, fun was our purpose. And it was productive. And it was meaningful. We formed relationships, common goals. We established rules of the game, made teams. We resolved conflicts, recognized great performance. During play, we dreamed big dreams. The fun was important work.

I’m sorry to say that the reason fun has been stigmatized is the not the stilted worldview of employees (we love to blame Millennials for this, but the accusation is misplaced). Rather, “fun” is now a dirty word because many employers have embraced the work/life balance myth. The employer mistakenly believes that if people are having fun at work, they certainly can’t be productive. It’s such a faulty precondition on which to evaluate productivity, and such an easy trap to fall into, that it may be one of the most insidious dangers leaders succumb to. After all, the cliché goes, I’m not paying you to have fun—I’m paying you work. The implication is clear.

I’m going to tell it to you straight: productivity requires fun. Effectiveness and efficiency require joy and require purpose, and it’s the insightful leader that senses when those elements are on the wane in the workplace and then…wait for it…lead by example.

Fun must be organic, authentic and from the top down. Fun is important work, and it must be protected. Fun and work aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, purpose, productivity, and joy lean on simple fun.

You can’t mandate fun, although mediocre leaders often try. When fun is mandated, employees often approach it as a test rather than an invitation. They may feel like they are being baited or in a new self-flagellating, self-denying, self-righteous competition to have less fun than their peers. “Look how little fun I’m having, boss! I must be doing better than others! I don’t have time for small talk—I’m too busy! I don’t have time for lunch—head down and at my desk is where you’ll find me. I don’t have time for fun—I’m too important!”

As leaders, we sometimes fall into the routine of creating tasks, creating goals, creating strategies; fair enough. Those are necessary. But what are you doing to create life at work?

So, don’t be afraid to encourage fun at work. Be afraid of Bigfoot; he’s more real than the myth of work/life balance.