Having Fun at Work, Life, and Everything In-Between

by Fred Lee on 27 April 2009 2 comments

It turns out that all work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but it might also make him an unhappy and unhealthy person, as well. According to developmental psychologists, early humans used fun and leisure for more than just a good time. It was also a way to establish relationships and develop collaborations that may have helped them band together as a cooperative group, a characteristic of early hunter-gatherers that gave them a survival advantage.

Taken in the context of the modern world, it has been theorized that the rise in importance of winning over simply playing and having fun may in fact discourage cooperative behavior and encourage selfishness and greed.

This is especially true when it comes to the unstructured fun and play of children, which is believed to nurture early feelings of compassion, empathy, and connectedness. Psychologists are quick to point out, however, that this does not include watching TV, playing video games, or competitive sports, especially when parents are present to push the competitive atmosphere to a higher level.

Left alone to their own devices, children will establish relationships and work together to achieve common goals (i.e., having fun), a basic quality of human interaction. In kids, it harks back to a simpler time when unstructured play was a hallmark of children’s lives after school or during vacations and weekends. Cooperation was necessary in order to satisfy the needs of the individual as well as the group in order to prolong play as long as possible and keep them coming back for more.

In adults, the interactions that can stem from fun and leisure can result in a better personal as well as professional relationships, encouraging such things as loyalty, cooperation, and friendship.

And as scientists are beginning to learn, friends may be a potential key to good health, even more so than family. In fact, studies are beginning to reveal that having strong social ties may help not only our minds and our bodies stay healthy, but may even help us live longer, as well.

Why this is the case is anybody’s guess, but it goes without saying that having friends to share in our moments of glory and turn to in our times of need can have a profound impact on our peace of mind, and by extension, our personal and professional lives. Friends can also encourage us to do more and to try harder.

While it goes without saying that it can complicate matters when you either do business with friends or are too close to the people you work with (after all, there is something to be said about separating work from pleasure), there are certain undeniable benefits to liking the people you work with.

Having a pleasant work environment and good relationships with the people that surround you make loyalty, cooperation, and trust more of a possibility, which can result in greater efficiency. Besides, taking a Machiavellian approach to your job and undercutting and competing with your co-workers will maybe further your career, but might not make work, and for that matter, your life, so enjoyable, and could lead to unpleasant circumstances on the job (just look at what happened to Enron). It might also make your colleagues less enthusiastic about working with you or helping you.

So the next time you feel the urge to compete and win, just try to keep things in perspective and remember to also have some fun. Don’t always place so much emphasis on winning or getting ahead at the expense of the people around you. Sure, a little competition can be good for you, but when it consumes you, then your life becomes about a fleeting moment of victory rather than everything in between. And when you really get down to it, life is really about the journey.

It’s like what your parents told you when you were growing up: just have fun, winning isn’t everything, even if they were threatening your soccer coach with physical violence because they didn’t let you play enough.

It was only because they love you.

 

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Let me preface this by saying that I am fortunate to have as friends individuals that I worked both with and for--and who, over the years, also worked for me. Some I've known over two decades.

In addition, I have a handful of close friends who I met through work and who I became friends with during the time we worked together and in some cases, after we left a company where we were both employed.

Getting along in the workplace is important, but I don't know how realistic or wise it is, to have "friends" (in the truest sense of the word as opposed to the "friends of the road/journey" that are typically what might be referred to in this article about office relationships)in a workplace.

It can get very tricky because one has expectations of behavior from those we label "friends" that co-workers cannot and will not always honor. Which can cause a lot of pain and disappointment. On both sides.

Being friendly and being friends. Two different things. Professional relationships need to be treated as such.

Some people do truly bond through work, but there can be professional obstacles, which is why so many folks really don't expand their friendships until one or both leaves a company.

I've made the mistake of thinking people were friends at work only to be stabbed in the back by their behavior, which wouldn't have been OK even if we weren't friends, but was even more problematic because it came from people who I thought were friends.

I've also been used by others whose version of friendship was truly one-sided in that they just wanted something from me. Something they covered up pretty well in the process.

There's just too much opportunity for manipulation and misuse, given the nature of professional relationships.

There are just too many things in a workplace that can get in the middle of a real friendship (again, not a general camaraderie and team thing). You see it all the time. Particularly when one person is promoted.

I've seen people who had revealed plenty in their friendships suddenly find all that held against them when their "friend" was promoted.

You have to tread carefully and make a real distinction between professional relationships, etc. and personal relationships. Some lines need to be drawn, if only to protect yourself.

At work, what really matters is not all the team-building crap, or being friends, but showing respect for all others and doing the work you were hired to do without hurting others (not always possible, to the best of your ability.

Yea, it's nice to meet up with folks who may share values, interests and activities. But you still have to realize that you're at work and that a co-worker can and will put their interests above yours. Which obviates a true friendship from the get go.

Loyalty and cooperation have to be earned through professional behavior, not personal affinities.

In fact, the workplace might be better for everyone if people really kept a distance.

Right now, the workplace is awful for many because cliques exist and some people are treated better simply because a boss or colleagues are more interested in the "likeability" of someone than their actual competence or contribution.

That goes on and makes work very difficult for a lot of very professional workers who are neither social nor brown-nosers nor networkers.

It should be about DOING the job, now how likeable you are or how funny or whatever. It's about your job performance. Something companies lose sight of.

So you really should address the downsides of "friendships" at work, cause there are plenty including the biases I've mentioned above.

It's not all a "good thing."

Fred Lee's picture

Dear Guest,

I agree, and I made the mistake of deviating from my thesis, so excuse me. I ended up changing certain things about the piece. In the end, my point is not that we should be friends with our colleagues, which has it's share of pitfalls as you've mentioned, but more so that it is important to make the most of our leisure time for the personal and professional benefits that may arise. I feel that friends are a large part of that, but did not mean to imply that we should be close friends with the people we work with.

Thanks for stopping by and pointing that out.