Fun is in my job description

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I used to be the serious guy, the quiet guy, not the funny guy or the social guy or the party guy. Ask anyone who’s known me for a long time and that’s what they’ll say. So it’s surprising to me that, at age 32, I’ve somehow developed a reputation as the fun guy at work. Is it a personality transformation, the real me being revealed, or just the absence of teenage shyness and angst? I don’t know. I do know that the reason for the change might be more environmental than genetic, but we’ll get back to that.

The new rep comes in handy when March Madness rolls around, because instead of wondering whether I can organize an office pool, I know I’m organizing the pool. In fact, if I don’t provide the entertainment, people wonder if I’m sick or on vacation. There’s an odd pressure to perform, but I can’t complain too much. If people want to have fun, and they think I’m the guy to make it happen, I say let there be burrito-eating contests, paper airplane throws, medallion hunts and the aforementioned basketball betting (all of which I’ve already orchestrated).

“Most Studious” was the title bestowed on me by my high school classmates. I was mad because someone else got “Most Intelligent.” If they were going to hang “most studious” around my neck, I certainly deserved “most intelligent” to go with it, didn’t I? Without the intelligence title to go with it, the studious label felt like the equivalent of “dumb guy who tries hard.” Anyway, you can see that I wasn’t on anyone’s radar for “most hilarious” or “most fun.” My classmates clearly thought fun didn’t fit into my schedule.

I much prefer fun over work, but, unfortunately, I’m conscientious. I rarely avoid work for fun’s sake. Most people are like this; it’s the only reason we’re not all drunk by lunchtime. But because we’re in an era where employers are starting to realize that all work and no play can turn Jack into a raving lunatic, I get to play the part of ringleader, all in the official name of team building. Instead of questioning this bizarre situation, I try to take full advantage.

It all started because the task of United Way campaign manager was written into my job description. I work at a nonprofit, and when I was hired, one of my responsibilities was to help out with our employee United Way fund drive. I had never done anything like it, but I quickly found out I was really good at it. Housewives become CEOs, lawyers become sculptors and football players become computer geniuses – life reveals unexpected skills and abilities every day. I happen to be an amazingly effective productivity killer.

If you want people to give money to a cause where I work, the hard sell doesn’t work. People who work for nonprofits can’t be strong-armed into giving because they see their career as a kind of donation to the common good already. So I developed a low pressure technique where we staged fun events, and hoped that fun would equal dollars. It worked. I may not be the most effective United Way fundraiser in the world in terms of dollars per person, but I’m pretty good at coupling entertainment with a cause.

After a few years of creating fun distractions for United Way, I was recruited to lead a “community team” in my building. This was the equivalent of giving the inmates the keys to the asylum. I now had corporate sponsorship to dream up just about anything I wanted to do, any time of the year (for team building reasons, of course). What can I say? My work life has turned into a Dilbert cartoon.

Back to the reasons this might have happened: this phenomenon is not all about me and my latent personality traits. There are employees at other organizations doing the same thing, formally or informally, because people eat this stuff up. The number of compliments I get is unbelievable. Get someone out of their daily routine, get them to laugh, and they are eternally grateful. Why? Productivity and accountability.

With improvements in technology, the amount of work that can be accomplished (and therefore demanded) by one employee is more than it was even 10 years ago. And with many employees now accountable for numbers-based goals, the margin for error is slim. A person walking quickly in the office less and less indicates a trip to the restroom.

When fun is scheduled into their day, it’s like they’ve being given permission to take a breath. If the screwing around is sanctioned, they can’t be warned, reprimanded or yelled at. And if someone still doesn’t like it, well, it wasn’t their idea — being the fun guy means you’re also the fall guy. But I haven’t been called on the carpet yet for wasting company time. If I wasn’t wasting time, I wouldn’t be doing my job, right?

Of course, staying true to the spirit of my weird responsibility means pushing the boundaries a little bit. Maybe my next activity will involve a field trip. (Ask for forgiveness, not permission, as they say.) An off-site picnic? I could sell that. An amusement park? Tougher, but not impossible. A brewery tour? That might be slightly beyond the outer limit.

You remember field trips don’t you? In high school, I thought they were the ultimate break. I hope I’m remembering that right – back then I was studious, not fun, or at least that’s what they told me.

The Head Fake is featured every week on www.readthebridge.info, and every month in the print edition of The Bridge. You can email Jay Kelly at jk@the headfake.com, or visit his web site at www.theheadfake.com.