Episode 109: Is It Possible To Have Fun At Work?
When was the last time you had fun at work?
When you’re under pressure and feeling stressed, it can feel impossible to associate fun and joy with your job. Instead, we often grind on until we end up disengaged and uninspired, eventually leading to burnout. But it’s hugely beneficial to learn how to cultivate a mindset of fun at work, even when your workload is overwhelming. In the long run, it could improve not only your well-being but also your productivity and performance.
Dr Kathryn Owler joins us in this episode to share her fascinating research on the characteristics and traits of people who enjoy their current jobs. We dissect the common themes these people have in finding success in their careers. And we also talk about changes we can implement as individuals to make work more fun and enjoyable.
If you want to start adopting the mindset people who have fun at work have, stay tuned to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Learn what it means to have fun at work.
- Discover the mindset and the things people who have fun at work do.
- Find out how you can attain a ‘lighthearted sense of enjoyment’ in your work life.
[05:07] Kathryn’s early work experience
She has always had the sense of wanting to have fun at work.
- People always say that studying hard will make things easier in the future. However, finding out that she still had to prove herself was a disillusioning experience for Kathryn.
[06:55] Feeling Stuck and Unhappy
Many people enter the workforce with high expectations.
- Often, our jobs don’t turn out how we imagined them to be, resulting in the feeling of being stuck.
- Sometimes, our frustration is because of things getting in the way of our plans and expectations.
[08:51] On Having Fun at Work
Work should be enjoyable and fun because we spend a lot of our time in the workplace.
[08:51] Kathryn: “I’ve just always really liked the idea of having fun. It’s been — maybe it’s a family trait. But I think that — I just figure that we’re at work a lot of the time and it should be enjoyable. And fun became a focus because I was really interested in finding out kind of those extreme ends.”
- She has researched what workplaces can do to help employees enjoy work more.
- Research suggests that providing opportunities for fun in the workplace can promote positive outcomes.
- We cultivate a fun-oriented mindset and create a deep connection to ourselves when having fun and enjoying our careers.
[13:30] Kathryn: “I’ve always felt it to be deeper. And yes, we think about fun as being quite a superficial phenomenon, perhaps not essential to who we are. But I’ve actually always felt it to be very connected to who we are as individuals. Because I think when we’re having fun, it’s like we’re enjoying ourselves…”
[15:14] Taking Fun into Any Workplace
Kathryn’s research involved people ranging from the 30s to late 60s with various job experiences.
- What sets these people apart is their mindset. They saw themselves as unique and distinct.
- Although some have left their jobs or moved on, they always knew they wanted to have fun.
- Kathryn found that the participants’ secrets lie in naturally building habits and ways of responding.
[16:50] Kathryn: “When I talked further and listened further, it did become clear to me that they did things that I guess had been become habitual for them, or a bit sort of natural ways of responding that they were used to.”
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[17:27] Secrets to Having Fun at Work
Have a mindset that sees having fun at work as a priority and a realistic, achievable goal.
- Aspire to enjoy work without even knowing it.
- Find an inherent sense of control in situations where you feel unhappy or stuck.
- When faced with a challenge, understand that there’s always something you can do about it.
[19:12] Rachel: “I always say that life is like a big blank sheet of paper, and then the stuff that you could control in life is a small circle in the middle. And I think as professionals, we spend a lot of our lives outside that circle, getting really riled and hacked off about all those things that are just completely outside of our control.”
[20:00] Taking Action
People who know how to have fun act when they sense things aren’t in their control.
- Mindfulness is an action that you must do habitually.
- Taking action can apply to both small and complex things.
- These people take responsibility for their happiness and emotions.
- It requires courage to look at yourself and the situation and take responsibility.
[22:55] Kathryn’s Definition of Fun
Kathryn defined fun as a ‘lighthearted sense of enjoyment’. Tune in to the episode to know what activities help people find this!
- It helps to have a good understanding of what you need as a person.
- It’s critical to work in your zone of control and look after yourself in every circumstance.
[24:52] Being in the Flow
Being in the flow means having enough interest, motivation, and engagement without feeling overwhelmed when we’re in the zone.
- The idea of flow is something used quite a lot in ‘fun at work’ literature.
- The participants in Kathryn’s study all like to feel competent in working, growing, and engaging.
[27:28] The Notions of ‘Joy’ and ‘Fun’
Kathryn says that ‘joy’ and ‘fun’ aren’t interchangeable.
- Being in the flow leads to a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment.
[27:43] Kathryn: “I use this notion of flow and this experience that you have just described. You’re coming out of what was quite a difficult conversation and feeling, I guess, that sense of satisfaction, a sense of enjoyment that I use quite a lot with people. I think that’s really, really valuable to think about, what it is you as an individual — what gives you that sense of fun, and also why it gives you that sense of fun.”
- As an individual, it’s valuable to think about what activities give you a sense of fun and why it does. It can be the key to understanding your roles.
- Boredom and getting outside the flow zone can result from not getting enough of these activities.
[29:36] Connection and Fun at Work
- Most people Kathryn interviewed have quiet personalities.
- Connection and communication are critical. It’s about getting along well with others.
- Limiting interactions with negative people and setting boundaries were common themes for the participants.
- It’s crucial to acknowledge and take action about difficult emotions.
[35:31] Being Successful While Enjoying Yourself
- The participants of the study have generally been successful in their careers.
- They had the skills, abilities, and opportunities to choose what they wanted to do.
- However, they have colleagues in the same situation but are unhappy.
- There are generally proactive reasons why people might move on from a job.
[38:31] Changing Your Mindset and Taking Action
- Feeling stuck in a job with no options comes down to mindset.
- It’s critical to explore the range of possibilities open to us. It starts with acknowledging the challenges we’re facing.
[39:17] Kathryn: “Actually what I found with people is sometimes it’s actually — it’s not as big a deal as they think. Because when they actually acknowledge that emotion, then they’re able to go learn from it and go, “Oh, this is what I need to do. I need to change this and this.”
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- Implementing change is sometimes not as big of a deal as we think.
- It comes down to finding ways to pull back, have control, act, and enhance the work experience.
- Taking small actions can put us in a significantly better place. From there, we can start making bigger decisions.
[44:11] Kathryn’s Coaching Experience
- Identifying their values is a common theme for people who undergo Kathryn’s coaching.
- She guides them on the actions they need to take to put their values into place.
- Kathrynhelps people shape their jobs as close to their ideal scenario as possible.
[46:52] Kathryn’s Top Three Tips
- Stop, pause, and identify how to make things you do every day more enjoyable.
[47:11] Kathryn: “There was always something that they could do to improve a work situation, a situation that was stressful, that was impacting the work enjoyment. There’s always something even if it’s really small. And that little step can lead to a greater sense of control and potentially other decisions that may be even more beneficial.”
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- Stay hopeful.
- Do something you love to do every day.
About Dr Kathryn Owler
Dr Kathryn Owler is the co-founder and director of the Auckland-based workplace wellness firm, Joyworkz. Here, she delivers in-house wellness seminars to various teams and organisations. Kathryn is also the director of The Happiness at Work Coach, where she provides practical guidance on how to increase joy and satisfaction in working.
Kathryn has also previously held teaching, research, and social work positions in education, business, and non-profit.
If you wish to connect with Kathryn, you may reach out to her on LinkedIn and The Happiness at Work Coach’s website.
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Kathryn Owler: When I talk to people who are feeling unhappy at work, they often have this stuckness. “How do I move out of this phase?”
Well, these people seem to have kind of inherent sense of control in this situation. So it’s not that they didn’t encounter challenges, and they didn’t encounter challenges to the enjoyment. But they always felt that there was something that they could do about it.
Rachel Morris: When was the last time you had fun at work? Perhaps you think that work is the last place where you should be having fun. Or perhaps you used to have more fun at work and for whatever reason, the joy has been sapped out of your working week. Fun is not a word you’d normally associate with high-stress, high-stakes jobs. But this week on the podcast, Dr. Kathryn Owler, joins us to answer the questions. What is fun anyway? Why does it matter at work? And crucially, how can we get a bit more of it?
Kathryn has done some fascinating research into fun at work and has found that it’s not about where you work, but how you work. And there are some key characteristics and traits that people seem to have, which determine if they have fun and enjoy their work, whatever job they’re in. We discuss these surprising findings and think about how we can inject our work with a bit more fun, and enjoy it more.
So listen to this episode if you want to find out the one mindset people who seem to have fun at work all share; why finding happiness and joy in your work may be a key predictor of your success; and some quick changes you can make to inject some joy into your working days.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm and have gotten used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to craft your working life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job.
In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and love what we do again. We talk a lot in the podcast about the zone of power and other coaching productivity and resilience tools and principles, which I found have made a huge difference to me personally, and also the teams which I worked with.
I put all these principles and tools together to form the shapes toolkit. This is a complete package of resilience, productivity, tools and training for doctors, healthcare teams, and other busy leaders. We’ve been delivering shapes toolkit courses all over the country in the form of keynote talks, webinars, workshops, online memberships and courses and full or half day live programs. We’ve been working with GP training hubs, new to GP fellowship programs, returned to practice programs, trainers groups, health and wellbeing projects and many more organisations.
We’re now taking bookings for summer and autumn 2022 and have a few slots left for spring 2022. So if your team are feeling overwhelmed with work, one crisis away from not coping, and want to take control of their workload, feel calm and work happier, do get in touch to find out how we can help.
So it’s great to have with me on the podcast today Dr. Kathryn Owler. Now Katherine’s a researcher and a happiness at work coach. So welcome, Kathryn.
Kathryn: Thank you, Rachel. It’s wonderful to be here with you.
Rachel: And I just find this amazing because I’m in the cold, cold UK and you’re in New Zealand.
Kathryn: I am and we’ve had the most beautiful spring day, so apologies there.
Rachel: We know. It’s seven o’clock in the morning. It actually is gorgeous. I’m actually looking at the sun rising over the park and yet it’s nice and crisp. It will probably get really disgusting and cold and rainy and stuff later on. But it’s nice at the moment. Anyway, we’ve got Katherine on the podcast today to talk about fun in the workplace, which is an interesting one, isn’t it?
When I think then a lot of people would probably say, “I’m having anything but fun right now.” But Kathryn, first of all, before we get into the nitty gritty of what fun is, why you’re interested in it, and what your research found, why did you start looking into fun in the first place? What sort of led you to that point in your life?
Kathryn: Well, it goes way back really to being a teenager. I think I’ve always had the sense I wanted to have a lot of fun at work, but I was also a bit of a girly swot. So I was — I studied hard at school, and then at university, and because I felt like people were saying, “That’s going to pay off. Study hard.”
And I had the sense that when I had done all that, I was going to get this amazing job. And I kind of just picked that up from the ether in a way, what people were saying to me, and then when I finally did, I did several degrees. And when I finally sort of entered the full-time workforce, expecting it to kind of all fall into place. I must say, I was a little bit disillusioned because it wasn’t quite as I expected, I still had to sort of — I had to prove myself, I had to work out what direction I wanted to go in. It wasn’t all fun. I don’t know if listeners have had that experience. Studying hard and not working out quite as they had planned. But you’re right. Back then, as a teenager, really focused on wanting to have fun.
Rachel: I think it’s interesting, isn’t it? That we study for years and years and years and years to do what we think is our dream job. And we think we’re going to be so happy and fulfilled when we’re doing it, and then we get to it and we do enjoy it. But then it can just turn into such a daily grind, and you think “Oh, is this what I studied all those years for? Is this is really what I want to do?”
Do you think everyone has that experience? You think that just sort of goes with the territory of a job? You get used to it becomes just a run of the mill, and so you’re not quite enjoying it so much.
Kathryn: I don’t know. I mean, I think I had fairly high expectations. But then perhaps a lot of people do. But I think that perhaps there was always a point that people get to, even if they’re really, really enjoying their job, there is a point that we get to — when things perhaps aren’t going how we imagined they might be. And at that point, it can be really difficult because we don’t necessarily know what to do, particularly if things have been going pretty well. And we were like,”Ah!” we suddenly feel quite stuck. And that’s an experience I encounter a lot with people are at that point of feeling really unhappy. They’re like stuck, “What do I do now?”
Rachel: So they’re not necessarily finding that their job too difficult, or they don’t think they’re bad at it, or they don’t think that they’re in the wrong job. But they’re just a bit a bit bored and a bit stuck. Do you think?
Kathryn: It can be lots of things. It can be that, “Yep, I kind of know my job now. I’m feeling a bit bored. I do like it, but I want a little bit more stimulation.” I have been in that situation. But it can be other things that I think things get in the way. I think I’ve met people, generally, when they’ve studied and that they’ve striven to pursue a particular profession.
Generally, they’re quite passionate about it, but things kind of get in the way. And it can be workload; it can be relationships with colleagues. It can be just finding, “What should my focus be here?” There’s a range of things that get in our way, different for different people. But eventually, it happens.
Rachel: Yeah. So you then started looking into fun in the workplace? Why did you choose to look at fun, as opposed to sort of passion or purpose or skills or strengths or anything like that?
Kathryn: Yeah, I’ve just always really liked the idea of having fun. It’s been — maybe it’s a family trait. But I think that — I just figure that we’re at work a lot of the time and it should be enjoyable. And fun became a focus because I was really interested in finding out kind of those extreme ends. What makes us really really like our job as opposed to perhaps really, really disliking our job? And so this interest in fun emerged.
Initially, it actually emerged, looking at what workplaces can do to help their employees enjoy their work more. There’s quite a body of research around that promoting fun in the workplace—playful fun, kind of fun we think about when we think of fun games, play, that sort of thing, and how that can help employees. I have been involved in that kind of research, but I became really interested in what individuals can do to have fun because some of the people that I was researching just seemed to be those kinds of people that, they had fun at any job, and I wanted to talk to them and always wanted to do a piece of research on those people. And so several years ago, I had that chance to, because I wanted to find out their secrets for myself as much as anything, what were the secrets? How did they have so much fun?
Rachel: And they’ll just sort of asked why you looked at fun as a strength. But I guess in my head, I’m thinking, fun sounds a bit icky. Because, no one ever says, “I go to work to have fun.” I mean, we talk about happiness at work, and I guess, we all know that or I guess, we should know that. Definitely evidence is emerging that if you’re happy at work, you’ll be successful. And like you said, you’re happiness at work coach. Maybe we think that being happier is quite a worthy thing — happiness being contentment, and satisfaction and all those things. But then you’re talking about fun. As a doctor, can I say that I want to have fun at work? Is that even allowed?
Kathryn: Yeah, well, I think there’s something about me that’s just — I’m pretty conventional, but there’s this little part of me that likes to just gently test the square that we’re in. And I think that that can lead us somewhere kind of interesting. One of the things about fun is that it can be — it’s gently subversive. It’s just gently testing it, as I say, the square we’re in or how we might normally operate, or even how we might see work.
As you say, isn’t work meant to be something in a kind of serious — maybe we can enjoy it, but in a noble sort of way? Well, I was kind of always been interested in testing those kinds of assumptions, and playing with them really and just seeing, where they can take us.
Rachel: And what is it about fun? Is there any evidence that having fun at work, makes you enjoy it more? Or makes you better at your job or anything like that?
Kathryn: Well, I think there’s a lot of the research that I had mentioned earlier. There’s quite a body of research now about workplaces who provide opportunities for fun and how that does promote. It can promote positive outcomes for that workplace, for that business. But interestingly too, there are some drawbacks. Because in that context, people can become a little bit resentful. Because if you’re having someone tell you to have fun, and how to have fun, we might not like that so much. Because the whole thing about fun is that it is a bit spontaneous. So, in that regard, I became really interested in what we might do as individuals to have fun.
Rachel: That makes a lot of sense, because the thought that your workplace is gonna prescribe fun for you just by saying, “Oh gosh, it’s gonna be awful. It’s gonna be cringy. It’s gonna be like, ‘prescribed fun’”. But you’re right, there are things that you can teach yourself. I’ve been listening to some TED Talks recently about the importance of finding flow in your life, and having fun seems to be one of the ways you can get into flow and find a bit of purpose and meaning as well. So it’s deeper, isn’t it, than just how it sounds? As you know, frothy fun on the surface?
Kathryn: Yeah, I think that’s the thing. I’ve always felt it to be deeper. And yes, we think about fun as being quite a superficial phenomenon, perhaps not essential to who we are. But I’ve actually always felt it to be very connected to who we are as individuals. Because I think when we’re having fun, it’s like we’re enjoying ourselves — that phrase, “Enjoy yourself!”, or we’re actually enjoying ourselves. I think there actually is a connection — quite deep connection to ourselves when we’re having fun. And so I’ve always had that sense, and I’ve always been really interested in how I might connect to who I am in the workplace and how others might do that as well to experience that enjoyment of who they are.
Rachel: You just think back to times when I had a bit of a laugh at work and someone comes and tells a funny anecdote or you watch a silly video or something silly goes on on the WhatsApp group, it does make things just feel so much better as well. Obviously, we’re looking for stuff that’s going to improve our performance, help us be better doctors or whatever. But actually, if you’re just enjoying yourself in your day, you can cope with a lot more, can’t you?
Kathryn: You can cope with a lot more. Yeah.
Rachel: And that’s what we need right now. I guess, it’s the ability to feel that we’re not going to kind of drown under the weight of what’s going on. So, Kathryn, I’m really interested. What did you find about these individuals — these marvelous individuals that found themselves having fun at work? Because I remember when we chatted earlier, an interesting finding was it wasn’t particularly job specific that individuals that could have fun at work — took that into whatever workplace they were in. Is that right?
Kathryn: Yeah. So those were the people I was really interested in talking to. Because I thought that’s just amazing. Because we often think about, that maybe we might have fun and really enjoy a specific kind of role. But yeah, these people over time — so they range from people in their 30s to people in these late 60s. So they had a wealth of job experience. They were able — on the whole, they saw themselves as kind of unique, really. They understood they were unique, because they understood that their friends, their family, members, colleagues couldn’t necessarily say that they’d always had fun at work.
Rachel: Right? So they’re thinking, “Well, I’m having fun and what is going on?” Did these individuals always managed to have fun even if the job got really, really hard? Or did the fun go at some point?
Kathryn: I think there were times people had left jobs or moved on. But I think what was really distinct about these people was — and this was distinct and they saw themselves as distinct. Well, actually take a step back. When I started to talk to them, and ask them their secrets, I guess, “How do you always have fun?” It was really interesting, because they knew they always had fun. But they didn’t quite know how they achieved it. So, I thought, “Oh, okay, it’s not going to be — what are their secrets?”
But when I talked further and listened further, it did become clear to me that they did things that I guess had been become habitual for them, or a bit sort of natural ways of responding that they were used to. And they had become sort of — maybe they were never conscious of it, or they had become unconscious of it.
Rachel: So you’re asking them what they do to have fun at work. They’re like, “We don’t know.” But because it’s been so ingrained to them, was it very obvious to you that what they were doing was very different from other people?
Kathryn: Well, once they started talking, what I realised that what was — perhaps there were a few things that were unique about them. And as a group, the first thing was, they all saw having fun as a priority. So it was important. Enjoying their work was a real priority for them. Someone said, in next to my family, it’s my top priority — those sorts of things. So for them, it was a goal, but it was not a — for most of us, we’d be thinking, having fun in every job, it’s a kind of impossible goal; it’s kind of a fantasy goal. But for them, they saw it as realistic, something they could achieve.
And the other thing, and they kind of spot that in their actions. They aspire to that without perhaps even knowing what they did. And the other thing that I noticed about them, that we discovered was that they — I said earlier that when I talk to people who are feeling unhappy at work, they often have this stuckness, “How do I move out of this phase?” Well, these people seem to have kind of inherent sense of control in this situation. So it’s not that they didn’t encounter challenges, and they didn’t encounter challenges to their enjoyment. But they always felt that there was something that they could do about it. And yeah, it was really interesting.
Rachel: Yeah. Oh, we were back to that, that control thing. I talk about all the time on podcasts in training, that zone of power, the fact that — I always say that life is like a big blank sheet of paper, and then the stuff that you could control in life is a small circle in the middle. And I think as professionals, we spend a lot of our lives outside that circle, getting really riled and hacked off about all those things that are just completely outside of our control.
There’s almost no point being there because there’s nothing you can do about it apart from getting very stressed. And absolutely, if you focus on what is in that circle, and in your control, you’re much more productive, powerful, and then happier. And it’s interesting that you say that they are focusing on what’s in their control. Are they just focusing on doing fun stuff that’s in their control, or is it about everything that’s in their control?
Kathryn: Yeah, good question. I think for these people, when things weren’t in their control or where they started to sense things weren’t in their control, they took some action. I think that was the main thing. So it’s just like taking action, and I guess we hear a lot about mindfulness these days. This idea of sort of pausing in thinking, “Oh what’s going on here? How might I take action? Perhaps I might take a different action.”
These people didn’t necessarily witness really — thinking in that sort of way or consciously, but they appeared to do that, perhaps, just as habitually, “What action can I take?” and it could be just really small action. It doesn’t have to be — there was one woman who just talked about, she was having a bad day, or just a bit frustrated, she would go for a walk around the block. She was able to do that in her in a job situation. Just something small like that, or something more complex, such as workload issues, and really needing to have a conversation about that with management and needing to think about that conversation. But having it? Yeah.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s the thing, isn’t it? We all know, we need to have those conversations. It’s the having of it, isn’t it? Interesting. I wonder if people who put fun first really want to have fun. You say they’re a bit subversive, anyway. Do you think they’re a bit more courageous than other people? Because to have fun, you got to put yourself out there a bit as well. And to have those difficult conversations, you need to be a little bit courageous as well. So do you think courage is an element of what was in sort of in their character or what they’d learned?
Kathryn: Yeah, I don’t know if I can say, but when I think about it, it probably was. I mean, I can’t say from a sort of research point of view that there was something that I looked at, but thinking about it, all of them actually talked about taking responsibility. They saw responsibility for their own happiness and emotions as being quite — that was something they all talked about. And I guess, the courage to take — probably to be able to take a look at themselves, and what was going on, and take responsibility for what was their bed, I guess that does speak of courage. It can be hard to take a look at what’s going on and what I need to do here, what I need to change, perhaps, how I need to engage differently with my colleagues, perhaps, the conversation I need to have with management.
Rachel: I’m just thinking. I’m just sort of thinking, what sort of activities can you do to have fun, and a lot of it involves connection with other people and having a bit of a laugh and sharing stuff and being a bit vulnerable and stuff like that. That all takes courage, actually, doesn’t it?
Kathryn: Yes, it does. The definition of fun we used was a lighthearted sense of enjoyment. So that could be interpreted fairly liberally, and in some ways, that things that people did to have that lighthearted sense of enjoyment, weren’t rocket science. They were kind of the sorts of things that we might all do at times, but they would be tweaking all the time. So it might be just being really organised, or it might be delegating, or going for walk around the block, or starting the day with meditation or whatever it might be that worked for them in that way. It was taking those actions, and I guess, in a way, it reflects a really good understanding of perhaps, what they needed as people to stay well, stay healthy, to stay able to do their best and in sort of continue in that vein.
Rachel: So those activities that they did to have fun, like staying in your zone of power, taking small actions, go for what they really need to, maybe start doing meditation. Interesting, those aren’t activities, that I would badge as, “You need to do that to have fun.” But those small things actually produce this feeling of light-hearted enjoyment.
Kathryn: I think what’s happening is that they are taking action. And as you were saying before, it’s that zone of control. So it’s more of a taking action, and it’s going to be different for everybody, what’s going to give them that sense of fun, but it’s in that taking action that there’s a sense of connection, I think with who they are. And also being able to look after themselves so that they can then come back and do their work and do it well.
Rachel: So there’s a sense that actually looking after themselves was a big part of them being able to enjoy their work. So we’ve got sort of looking at themselves, taking control, having courage, taking action. Anything else that you found was sort of common to this group of people?
Kathryn: You mentioned before the idea of flow, and that the idea of flow being that when we in a zone, we have enough interest in what we’re doing. We’re motivated, we were engaged, but we’re not overwhelmed. So that was something that came through, and that’s a notion that is used quite a lot in the fun at work literature as a way of identifying what individuals might do that’s fun. Because often we think of fun as social. It’s something that we have with other people. And yes, of course we do. But in terms of individually, in the jobs we might do, and the tasks, I guess, that we’re doing, that’s a concept that’s used to talk about fun as individuals.
And so these people in my study, we’re all kind of in that zone. They talked about how they felt competent, or they like to feel competent in ways they might feel competent in their work, but also that liking, growing and engaging more. For example, just the one of the people was an engineering shop manager, and that can be quite complex tasks, at times big jobs. So he was just really playing the head and organised himself. So there was a real feeling of competence, as well as challenge, and he really enjoyed that. That was fun for him — these huge operations with tracks and so forth.
Rachel: So that’s interesting. It’s not about doing those activities that necessarily make you laugh or things like that. It’s actually doing stuff that you enjoy doing. And I can imagine that for someone who likes to plan, spending time getting your spreadsheet sorted and actually getting a plan of what you’re going to do can be quite fun. And I guess I have noticed that even in really long conversations, where it’s quite involved in this quite difficult stuff, we’ve talked about heavy, heavy topics, I can come out thinking, “I really enjoyed that conversation.”
I wouldn’t describe it as, “Oh, I had fun in that conversation.”, particularly if it’s not life or death, but a really serious one. But there is that sense of, “I’ve enjoyed that.” Because I was in flow, I was engaged. It felt like it had purpose to it. It felt like I was good at what I was doing there. So yes, I could say, I definitely enjoyed it. Yeah, I guess it’s the words or terminology used, isn’t it? Can you use enjoyment and fun interchangeably?
Kathryn: I think so. Actually, I’ve started to use the word joy more and enjoyment more as branching out of that, because I think, they aren’t interchangeable. I use this notion of flow and this experience that you have just described. You’re coming out of what was quite a difficult conversation and feeling, I guess, that sense of satisfaction, a sense of enjoyment that I use quite a lot with people. I think that’s really, really valuable to think about, what it is you as an individual — what gives you that sense of fun, and also why it gives you that sense of fun. Because it can be just such a key to understanding our roles.
If we’re not getting enough of those sorts of activities, we will start to move more into that either boredom or outside the flow zone. Just an example, I was working with a clinical nurse, and she had four days a week. She really liked her job. One of the days it was in a different setting, and she really didn’t like it, she just couldn’t work out why and it was almost enough to overwhelm her experience of the whole week.
And so just digging into what she really loved to do, and it turned out to be a lot around connection for her. And then the job one day a week was really, really quick. She had very little time for connection, and just understanding that just helped her to realise, “Oh, okay, this is why I just find this so hard.” She was able to maybe just pause between patients. Just take a deep breath, maybe give it an extra smile. So that was something that she could do but really, it was just not really her flow. But understanding that helped her understand, “Okay, this is what’s going on. I know really what I want and what I do like.”
Rachel: How much does connection with others contribute to fun and enjoyment at work? Is it different for different people or is it always some sort of connection involved?
Kathryn: I think it’s different for different people. When I did this piece of research, part of me, when I interviewed these people, I wondered if these people would be kind of laugh a minute types, that office joker kind of, but it wasn’t like that. I would say there was one person in the sample. It was — an in-depth qualitative interview was around. I think we had eight or nine people we interviewed. One of those people furthered that.
But actually most people are quite quiet thorough people. At least, from my — seem to be. But yeah, I mean connection was important though. It wasn’t necessarily having jokes all the time. But connection was important, and actually, one thing that came out was an awareness of the importance of communicating and communicating well. I think that was something — for them, having fun, enjoying their job might not be cracking jokes all the time, but it was getting on well with others.
Rachel: Yeah. And I guess my next question is, does fun depend on other people? Because I guess that’s something that is outside, you’re saying to people, how other people are. Is it possible to go in and enjoy yourself and have fun, even if everyone else is miserable?
Kathryn: Yeah, wow. Oh, it’s probably harder, but people talked about that. Few people talked about how they would actually — that the environment did impact. And there was one woman, I think, she was in her late 40s, and she said, there were a lot of people in her workplace that were in their early 20s, and they’ll constantly moaning about how tired they were. She was like, “If anyone’s going to be tired, it’s going to be me, not you and your early 20s.” So she was sort of limit her interaction, and a few people mentioned about limiting interactions with whenever they saw negative people or people who are in a really negative zones, people going through a restructure.
One of the women were talking about — the department going through a restructure is obviously a very difficult time. Often emotions can come up; it can be really easy to go to those difficult emotions, to be talking about that, to be to be complaining, but sometimes it’s justified. But yeah, she really tried to keep it light. So I think, it does have an impact, where we know that emotions are contagious, don’t we? But yeah, those people kind of set boundaries, I guess, around some of that to help them.
Rachel: Yeah, I guess it’s hard, isn’t it to just avoid any talk of negativity, when people are having problems? You don’t want to be that person that goes, “Okay, sorry, I’m not talking to you. You’re bringing me down, man. I don’t like your vibe.” But there is a sense that you can just wallow in it. And you know that there are some people that just get on and on and on.
And if you spend lots of time with those people that you will eventually start to think like that. So almost it’s, I guess, putting that boundary up and going, “Okay. I’m sorry, that’s difficult.” And if that person is not willing to, then talk about other stuff, or think of some positive stuff, then you know, maybe going and chatting to someone else and limiting your exposure to that person.
Kathryn: I think that’s a very good point. Because we do need to acknowledge our difficult emotions. And I think actually, not doing so is one of the big things that can get us in trouble. When we ask — when things are starting to go up, we’re starting to not enjoy our work so much. I think we often and I’ve had this experience, we often push on, maybe we like to think of ourselves as positive people or stiff upper lip, or whatever it might be. Because we don’t want to be in that sort of complaining, moaning zone. We want to be positive. We want to maybe push start. But yeah, it doesn’t go away, and we have to acknowledge that.
Rachel: Yeah and I think the difference between positive and negative people is not that the positive people don’t acknowledge the issues. They 100% and not acknowledge the issues. But then, they’re forward thinking that, they stand there, say in a panic, “Oh, yeah, this is really tough. This is tough, and this is issues I’ve seen. This is what I’m going to do different. This is the action we’re going to take. This is what we’re going to do next.” Rather than just saying, “Everything is awful. It’s never going to get any better. I’m going to go down to the bottom of the garden and eat worms, because that’s the only option I’ve got.”
Those are the people that really bring you down, and often they’re blaming everybody else. The people that I think are less — they don’t bring you down as much. That actually can make you feel very positive when things are things are difficult. Other people that, “Yeah, this is really difficult, and I’m feeling it as well. This is how I think I’m going to try and make it better, or this is what I’m going to do to try and survive it or do this than the other.”
Kathryn: It’s right in the research. As I said, these people, they did take action. So there was an acknowledgement. That wasn’t just like a kind of glossing over, “Everything’s wonderful. My life’s wonderful. I never experienced difficult emotions.” It was very much, “Oh, if something’s not going so right, I’ll actually do something to change or shift it.” So was very much an acknowledgment. Which is interesting, because I think somehow perhas don’t quite tuned in to how they were feeling and when they needed to change.
Rachel: Yeah, so sounds like that the people that were experiencing fun and enjoying themselves actually were probably quite successful and doing pretty well, because they was saying in their zone of power; they were taking action; they were changing things they needed to change. Did they seem to have careers that they were sort of happy with, that they were moving forward in, that they were successful in?
Kathryn: Yes, and I would say that, generally, they had situations where they had been able to train, to study post school in something that they were interested in. And they had the skills and ability and opportunities to choose within a certain capacity, what they wanted to do. And also, the people that I talked to — some people were self-employed, but those who weren’t, we’re in working in pretty good workplaces with pretty good conditions.
So they had a lot of things going for them in terms of the research that backs up the things that helped us to enjoy our work, both from what we might be come equipped with, but also the organisation. But that said, they also were very aware that they had colleagues and very similar situations, similar backgrounds, same job, that were often not that happy, whereas they were generally happy and having fun.
Rachel: And it was that because they had been — if they found they were in a workplace environment that would just suck the life out of them and say, “Right. Well, that’s it. I’m gonna go work somewhere else.”
Kathryn: Well it didn’t seem to be the case. I mean, people did move on. I think there was one situation where someone was working in a situation with sort of bullying and they decided to move out of that situation. I suppose in that case, they didn’t see an alternative. It was more of a reaction to the environment, but genuinely, they seem to be — if people moved on, there was kind of a proactive reason why they might move on. One of the people there, she admitted that she was not on a roll that she ideally chose, but she was actually cleaning houses — rich people’s houses. But she got to live in a really beautiful part of the country, and that was one of the reasons that she had chosen to do that.
Rachel: I think that that point about that lady cleaning the houses, she was wasn’t doing a job that she necessarily really wanted to do, but she was using this power language of, “I choose to do this so that I can live in this part of the country.” etc, etc. So not saying that, “I have to do this.” but “I’ve chosen to do this, and there’s a reason why I’m doing this. So I’m going to make make the most of what I’m doing.” And I think one of the reasons — having worked a lot of doctors and other healthcare professionals recently is this thinking, “I have to do this. I’m utterly trapped. I have no choice.” And if you change the language to, “I’m choosing to do this job for six months, so that I can move on to the next one.” Or “I’m choosing to do this. I’m choosing to work really hard right now, So that we can ‘blah’.” that’s a different mindset, that seems to change things quite a lot.
Kathryn: I think you’re right, and I’ve talked a couple of times about the sense of stuckness. And when we are feeling really miserable, and maybe we think we have no options, we have no choice. And so I’ve been in that situation myself, and feeling like I had no options, I had to stay in this job, or I needed the money or whatever it might be. But it is a mindset. And so being able to really kind of explore that and explore out the range of possibilities that are open to us. Usually does start with being able to acknowledge the challenges we’re having, I think. And often we were scared, perhaps, to go there to think about those emotions that we might be having. Because maybe we think, “Oh, we have to make this huge change. I’m going to have to leave my profession. I’m going to have to leave this job.” But actually what I found with people is sometimes it’s actually — it’s not as big a deal as they think. Because when they actually acknowledge that emotion, then they’re able to go learn from it and go, “Oh, this is what I need to do. I need to change this and this.” And we can often just do that within our current situation and make quite a big shift.
Rachel: I think that’s right. We often think it’s all or nothing. “I’m completely stuck here. I have to do this job and the only option is to leave and do something different.” I guess that’s what this podcast is all about. It’s actually, what small things can you do? Because often doing lots of small things does make quite a big change. It just might be cutting out that tiny little thing or connecting with that person or just tweaking what you’re doing outside of work, changing a bit of mindset stuff, getting some habits in there — lots and lots of different things that add up to actually a complete transformation.
Even if you’re still in the same place that you were in, in the first place. I think currently, in the UK, and I’m sure all over the world people in healthcare are just feeling completely overwhelmed at the moment, is it possible to have fun when you have that feeling of being overwhelmed?
Kathryn: It’s not a nice feeling, being overwhelmed. I don’t want to minimise that at all. And I know people have just been working so hard, and it’s been so difficult. I think it does come back to what we’re talking about. It’s finding ways to pull back a little bit and find some control, take some action. It can enhance our experience of work, and I think the thing is once we’re able to do take some small actions, that can kind of put us in a little bit of a better place to feel like we can think a little bit more clearly about our situation.
And then, are there some bigger actions we might want to take? How can we think about this situation other than feeling completely overwhelmed? So it’s actually just taking little actions, as you were saying, it’s actually really powerful. And that seems to be giving us a little bit more of an opportunity to then be able to make those bigger decisions, potentially.
Rachel: We’re very nearly out of time. But I just wanted to ask you, was there anything else that you found in these people that was a common theme running through the people that experience fun at work?
Kathryn: Well, there was quite a few things. But one of the things was the people who had more fun, something about the goals — that they see it. They all wanted to have fun. It was all a goal. They were working towards enjoyment or aspirations in that direction. Whereas research has shown that people whose goals are a little bit more about avoiding stuff like, “I better get that job done, or my boss is gonna be upset with me.” don’t have so much enjoyment.
So focusing on those goals of what you — not just avoiding, so that you’re less mmiserable, but actually aiming for what you want, I suppose, “Where am I? What do I want to do? How do I want to feel? How do I want to be? And how can I get there?”
Rachel: Having one of those goals of actually happiness at work or an enjoyment at work, even though it — I guess lots of [people] think, “Oh, that’s far too frivolous. I can’t have that as a goal.” Actually. If it did, can you think of all those different things you would do and change and tweak to have that? And I love that. It’s just, “Avoid feeling stressed and burnt out.” That’s not particularly inspirational. But actually, is my goal is to enjoy my work today. What things can I put in there that will help me enjoy it? What things can I chop out that will also help me enjoy it?
Kathryn: And it’s going to be different for everybody. So taking a look at what’s not working for you now, how would you want it to be if it was ideal? What would that look like to you? What can you use differently? What steps can you specifically take? Might be little things. Different for everybody.
Rachel: Yeah, I love that. Because actually fun is one of my core values. And I feel a bit silly saying that sometimes. I don’t feel it’s a particularly lofty core value. But actually, for me, it’s really, really important. And I’m gonna put that into practice, actually having that as one of my goals for every day. Do something fun.
Kathryn: That’s great. Have fun, Rachel.
Rachel: Makes me sound very shallow, doesn’t it? I think it’s just the word fun, though, isn’t it? I think if you change it to joy, that sounds a little bit more lofty in wherever, doesn’t it? Anything else with Kathryn, in a minute, I’m gonna ask you for your top three tips for happiness at work. So, happiness at work, but there’s also all sorts of other stuff as well. And you know, when you coach people, what do you particularly find that people are going away and changing about what they’re doing? Is there any sort of common theme that you find people are really successful with?
Kathryn: I think one of the big one of the big things is that people are able to identify what their particular values are. So when they’re feeling unhappy, we really look at that and know what’s going on for them and how they really want to be so we talked about that kind of aspirational goal, how do you really want to be? And that’s not pie in the sky that, if that was real, what might you do? And so often, it’s kind of a lightbulb for people because they’re like, “Oh, okay, is it okay for me to have that?” It’s because when we’re unhappy, often it’s something about our own values have been compromised, I guess when we have a difficult emotions.
Without a clue to what people’s values actually are, and so you’re really being able to focus on what’s important and it can be in work, or it can be even outside work. So really identifying values really is something that emerges for me. I mean, we look at, what actions might you take to put that into place, and that can be a whole range of things, ranging from assumptions that they are holding about what may or may not be possible, and they work plies this situation, boundaries, communications, facing fears, really acknowledging their emotions, and in thoughts and in being able to learn from them and process them positively.
So a whole bunch of things, but it really starts from their values and what’s important to them, and then shaping their job in a way as close as possible to their ideal scenario every day making those small changes.
Rachel: And I know, you and I’ve talked about doing what you love, actually trying to do more activities in the job that you’re good at, and you’re using your strengths for and you really enjoy. And it may well be different like you said for different people. I’ve often been beating myself up because some people just love doing this particular aspect of the job. And I’m going, “I don’t really enjoy that. What’s that about? I love doing this bit of the job.” I go, “Oh my gosh, Rachel, I hate doing that.”
Kathryn: It’s totally different. It’s very individual. So yeah, it’s totally fine. My colleagues love spreadsheets, that makes some — I don’t know, it’s fun. For me. It’s like my worst nightmare.
Rachel: Yeah. And I love talking in front of people. So get me up in front of an audience. The bigger the better. I’m loving it and other people like, “Oh, my gosh, Rachel. That’s like my idea of a complete nightmare.” But then there’s other things that they’re doing. You’re amazing to be able to do that. So, it’s different, isn’t it? We really need to end. What are your three top tips, Kathryn?
Kathryn: Three top tips? Well, I think I’d encourage people to stop and pause and maybe not do what — is there something else we might do then what we might normally do? And to make it more fun, more enjoyable. That’d be my first one. And secondly, stay hopeful. These people I interviewed, they were very hopeful. There was always something that they could do to improve a work situation, a situation that was stressful, that was impacting the work enjoyment. There’s always something even if it’s really small. And that little step can lead to a greater sense of control and potentially other decisions that may be even more beneficial. And thirdly, related a little bit to what we were just talking about doing something you love to do every day. Some days, it doesn’t seem that easy. But even if it’s 5-10 minutes of something that you love, it can really settle your spirit; it connects you with who you are. It gives you that sense of competence. Really, really powerful and can help to feed into other things that you have to do that day. So those will be my top three, Rachel.
Rachel: I love that. I think the whole hopeful thing is, we always have a choice. That is always something else that we can do, and that is just fantastic. But when we’re overwhelmed, we’re busy. Sometimes it’s really hard to see that. And so I think talking to other people can be really helpful as well and just just chatting this through.
Kathryn: Oh definitely. That’s very powerful, too.
Rachel: So Kathryn, if people wanted to find out more about you more about your work, how could they do that?
Kathryn: So they can check out my website. So that’s www.happinessatworkcoach.com.
Yep, fairly simple. If they like I have a free PDF there, the three simple steps to enjoying any job. So a little bit more about what I do. Feel free to download that I’d love to share that with you.
Rachel: Fantastic. So we’ll put that link in the show notes and they can contact you through the website, presumably.
Kathryn: Yeah, that would be great. Fantastic.
Rachel: Well, thank you so much for spending the time to share this with the listeners. Really interesting conversation. I think we’ll have to have you back another time to talk a little bit more about happiness at work. I think it’s just such an important thing and help is so powerful for beating stress and burnout and all those sorts of things. So thank you very much, and good night even though it’s good morning where I am.
Kathryn: Thanks so much.
Rachel: Thanks, Kathryn.
Kathryn: Bye. Bye.
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