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Fueling the Funnyconomy

Steve Keil says Bulgarians need to play more to improve their workplaces, but splicing fun into company routine is advantageous beyond the Black Sea.

“We are handicapping ourselves and holding ourselves back because we don’t value play.” According to Steve Keil, CEO at business intelligence consultancy, Xentio, the biggest roadblock impeding Bulgaria’s economic and social development right now is the absence of fun. He outlines why this is, and what can be done, in his recent TEDxBG talk: A manifesto for play, for Bulgaria and beyond.

Keil points out that Bulgaria often comes in last in Europe (or the EU) in the development of innovation, health care, education and entrepreneurship. Bulgaria, he says, ranks as the saddest place to live on earth relative to GDP-per-capita. He believes the root of the problem lies in the country’s culture. Communism stamped the value of play and innovation out of people in favour of seriousness, and to turn the country around Bulgarians need to inject play into their businesses and daily living. “I’m sorry, but the problems of today are not the problems of the industrial revolution. We need adaptability… we don’t need mechanized workers,” he says.

But since humans are hardwired for play, it’s not just Southeast European companies that could benefit from sprinkling more play into their corporate diet. As Kiel says: “The opposite of play isn’t work. The opposite of play is depression. Play improves our work. It stimulates creativity. It increases our openness to change and improves our ability to learn.” And there are a few easy ways to place value on play and fun in the office.

1. Don’t underestimate the value of the office clown:

Having an office joker is an asset according to a study conducted in New Zealand and published in the International Journal of Humor Research. This staffer challenged the team (and management) to think creatively by “pushing boundaries,” and did double duty by contributing to the development of the office culture and relieving the stresses of coworkers. 

2. Get an office television show:

A poll conducted by Spherion, a Canadian staffing and recruiting company, found that 44% of people agreed talking about T.V. at work “increases office camaraderie.” Chatting about the latest episode of Mad Men or Grey’s Anatomy can make “the workday more enjoyable and facilitate team building among coworkers.” 

3. Loosen the ties, and skip the heels:

Take a leaf out of Mark Zuckerberg’s office handbook and build an office environment that dresses casually. Studies show that dressing down at work improves morale by up to 85%, saves staff time and money and increases productivity somewhat. Many employees also smile upon the dressed-down office because they perceive it to be a benefit of their work environment.

4. Don’t skip meals:

Kiel believes that long lunches (he suggests grabbing a beer) are “recess for the brain,” and that letting employees recharge midday without feeling guilty about leaving their desks will foster new ideas that will better the company. Of course, not everyone agreesItalian cabinet minister Gianfranco Rotondi once said the long, alcohol-rich lunches of Italy were both bad for employee health, and brought “the country to a standstill.” Perhaps the key here is moderation.