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March 2003 Issue

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Management Strategies & Tips

By Jan Norton

Email: norton@mwsc.edu

Necessary Fun

Budgets are tight everywhere. People are straining to do their jobs with decreasing resources, and sometimes to do more than their jobs when vacant positions are created or can’t be filled. And even if budgets aren’t stressful, there’s just the everyday pressure that comes with management and the challenges of the semester cycle, with students feeling – and sharing freely – their frustrations at midterms.

So one day during the winter break, my staff and I made plans for our non-academic futures in case our college closes or our learning center is chopped. I own my own home, so everyone’s moving in with me. We each own washers and dryers, so we plan to set up a laundromat in my garage. Two of us have paid-for cars, so pizza deliveries are an option (we’re assuming that someone out there will still be gainfully employed and still wanting to eat pizza). We also thought it would be great to raise rabbits – or let rabbits multiply and raise themselves – for food, pelts, and pets.

Yes, I’m publicly confessing that my staff and I sat around and did no tangible work one afternoon. It was only an hour, but it was an hour of laughter, conversation, creativity, and compassion both silly and sincere. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I will defend that use of our time to anyone. Those interactions and light spirits are necessary for getting us through isolation and darker times. Knowing we can laugh together and support each other makes it safer to work here. And for now, when another budget cut looms or students vent their frustrations to us, we can simply mention that the rabbit farm is always an option, and we can smile.

You probably don’t have rabbit plans among your staff members (but if you do, please contact me – there are definitely partnership possibilities here, perhaps a national franchise for disenfranchised academics). But I hope, for your sake, that you have something comparable, some touchstone of good will and genuine partnership that bonds your staff and re-bonds them with each mention of that memory. I never have to curtail the good times because people aren’t getting enough done, but as a manager, I believe I have the obligation to create or accept the “good times” opportunities for my employees.

If you’d like to read some formal/famous musings about attitudes and spirit in the workplace (or if, like me, you’re looking to justify to others what your gut tells you is true), check out books like FISH! by Stephen Lundin, Get Weird! by John Putzier, or Managing to Have Fun by Matt Weinstein. Here’s a taste of Weinstein’s first chapter: “But if taking a fun break and wasting company time both look pretty much the same, how can you tell which is which? How do you know if you are looking at someone relieving stress, or if you are looking at someone who is just goofing off? It’s all a matter of perception. … Once you realize that ‘goofing off’ is in the eye of the beholder, you can look at fun at work a little differently. Instead of suppressing fun at work, you can begin to nourish and cultivate it, because the expression of fun at work can be extraordinarily beneficial for the morale and productivity of your entire organization.” (26).


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