It doesn't have to be wacky, but a bit of fun at work is therapeutic for staff, and for the business.
Management teams are casting about for affordable ways to make their staff feel good about their organisations, as they continue to work their way out of the recession. Injecting some fun into the workplace is a popular way to create a feel-good factor and maintain an engaged workforce.
Auckland boutique law firm Swarbrick Beck Mackinnon, for example, has a dress-up box. The company's co-founder, Kathryn Beck, says: "I think someone was wearing the Goofy hat just the other day. It is important in our job, and probably any workplace really, to maintain a sense of the ridiculous."
Website construction company Springload encourages staff to play hacky sack games a couple of times a day at work, which encourages them to take a decent screen break - and if clients are there, they are asked to join in too. Air New Zealand is a fan of quiz nights, interdepartmental rugby, cricket and netball and has an annual engineering trolley derby. Gunge Plunge was a popular event last summer, with staff encouraged to make a donation to charity for the chance to plunge their work colleagues into a pool of grimy slime. More than 14 senior managers volunteered to be the dunkees, including senior executives Rob McDonald, Julia Raue, Stephen Jones, Bruce Parton and Rob Fyfe.
A popular trend in Britain is to come to work naked for a day. This is perhaps an example of where management teams should tread carefully before organising something that they believe is fun, but others may not.
"One size does not fit all," says executive coach Linley Rose, of Coaching Associates. Her message is that you have to know yourself before you begin initiatives in the office.
Mike Hutcheson, ex-adman and head of The Lighthouse Ideas Company, says one Christmas, when his company had lost a major client, instead of the full-on Christmas party with band and speaker, they had fish and chips and a children's magician for entertainment. It went down a storm.
"You can't do fun by numbers," he says. Some team building exercises can be hugely embarrassing, he points out. "A lot of team building is physical, and that's just nuts for some people."
And it's important the executive team join in the fun exercise. Any hypocrisy is soon exposed. "You have to talk the talk and walk the walk," says Hutcheson..
The businessman is a big fan of dining out as a source of fun. "The best ideas happen when you are breaking bread and talking over a meal," he says.
Those having the most fun at work are aged 24 and under - hardly surprising, as they typically don't have the responsibilities of their older counterparts, says John Robertson, managing director of JRA, which runs an annual survey to find the country's best workplaces.
Robertson says in his survey of 33,000 workers, the recurring comment about what makes their work fun is, "the people". The leadership team's ability to select people who are compatible is therefore extremely important, he says.
"People come to work and spend as many hours in their workplace as they do with their family - if you are spending all these hours with other people you want to be working in an environment where it is fun."
He warns that token steps like buying a new table tennis table are not going to help matters if the office politics are bad.
Organisations have to get into the minds of their people, he says. "What makes for fun as much as anything is to do with the culture of the place - it does not have to be wacky or crazy or obsessive."
Auction website Trade Me seems to have got into the minds of its people. Chief executive Jon Macdonald says he prefers his staff to come up with fun initiatives rather than have them organised by the executive team or HR. It's more a "by the people and for the people" attitude, he says. And the 175 Trade Me staff have no shortage of ideas.
Macdonald says hiring staff who are energetic and optimistic is the key to creating a fun atmosphere. "If you get that bit right, then everything is easy," he says.
"We acknowledge we do have different personality types within the company - the commercial and sales people and then the operations (techie) guys - it's not one homogeneous culture."
Zoe Dryden, whose company Second Base runs leadership development courses in New Zealand and Nepal, targets leaders in their 40s who have lost their sense of fun. As they age, she says, "they get far too serious". She often works with people who have been promoted to leadership, but who are shy, and splutter when asked to present.
"It is so important that we get to be comfortable about feeling uncomfortable," she says.
For fun to become realised as a value in the workplace, it needs to be exhibited and realised by the leadership team, she adds.
"This is promoted by their behaviour, and by this I don't mean their use of a slide or the climbing wall they may have installed in the building; I mean their ability to laugh at their own mistakes, their ability to take themselves less seriously and their own genuinely fun style."
Specifically, fun as a corporate value encourages creativity, relieves stress and definitely helps bond people, says Dryden.
"I have heard many great initiatives that have been invoked to exhibit fun and some of the ideas may seem ridiculous to others but, like a sense of humour, they are just efforts, ideas or forms of stimuli. Some people will like them and others won't."
You definitely can't "enforce" fun, she says. "When you expect everyone to find a slide fun you are taking a 'sheep dipping' approach to behaviour, and this will have the opposite effect because we all have a different interpretation of fun.
"So, if you are providing stimulus, it is good to provide a variety of ideas to accommodate a breadth of tastes."
Gill South is an Auckland freelance writer.