What you need to know about fun in fitness and at work

fun, fitness, work, Todd Durkin

“Show your teeth more,” says fitness entrepreneur Todd Durkin. You know: Smile.

The trouble with work is sometimes the trouble with working out — when they’re not any fun.

Do you drag yourself into the office every day, see your angry boss and glass-eyed coworkers hunched over laptops? Do you wonder why it has to be such a drag?

Are you the angry boss? Are you desperately trying to figure out how you can improve your workplace? Are you tired of seeing your employees scrape through the day, barely making it to the end? Do you want them to be excited about work? Do you want to help their well-being, both in, and out of the workplace? Perhaps you have heard about companies like Blueboard that offer employee reward schemes and well-being incentives and want your business to get involved? It is no secret that rewarding your employees is the key to a productive workplace after all. If the above sounds appealing to you, then you might want to check out LifeWorks for improving employee well-being, or just to get some ideas about how you can help. Well-being doesn’t just have to start and end in the workplace either…

After work, do you schlep to the gym or go for a run, only to find it isn’t any better? Maybe you’re just going through the motions, checking off the treadmill or the weights from your to-do list.

For too many people, neither their jobs nor their exercise gives them any sense of joy or play.

I’ve been in that situation, and you probably have, too. Workplaces can be so self-serious they suck the life out of employees. Gyms can be so intimidating that no newbie dares step inside. In both, everybody wants to be seen, acknowledged and appreciated.

At a fitness conference last week, people smiled, laughed and shared unapologetically about the importance of having fun. They make it a goal in their business, exercise, and other important parts of their lives. The annual IDEA World Fitness Convention drew some 10,000 trainers, business owners, nutritionists (such as NASM CNC) and others for lectures, panel discussions, workouts and more. They were there to share enthusiasm and information about exercise, nutrition and well-being.

And to share fun, like in this clip of a “Soul Train” workout.

The first time I noticed was when California gym owner John Heringer recounted the growth of his company. He and his colleagues built fun into the business model, into the hiring guidelines, into the orientation of the trainers and other employees.

John makes it a point to call every customer by his or her first name at least three times every session. He refers to them as fitness partners, not gym members. At the end of every workout, everybody gets a high-five.

At the next session, TRX guru Randy Hetrick touched on much the same.

I realized I’d never heard anyone at previous jobs or communications conferences talk so much about this.

So I asked him to continue in another clip, here.

Yes, fun is good for business

Of course, we don’t all work in the exercise business.

In fact, some of us are very, very important.

And some toil under grim taskmasters or overwhelmed managers in way over their heads.

But before you scoff at the notion of having fun at work, consider this.

An increasing body of research demonstrates that when leaders lighten up and create a fun workplace, there is a significant increase in the level of employee trust, creativity and communication — leading to lower turnover, higher morale and a stronger bottom line.

That’s from “>”The Levity Code: Why it Pays to Lighten Up,” one of several books to make the case.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the physician and author, famously said, “We don’t quit playing because we grow older; we grow older because we quit playing.”

He never met Sue Heaton, who is about to retire from her flower-shop business and plans to become a part-time trainer. She loves her work and loves working out. She’s 68, fit and completely delightful.

Brings out the best in people

For people who don’t own their own business like Sue, fun can still be incorporated into the workplace in all kinds of ways. Maybe it’s just recognizing birthdays or work anniversaries. Lots of bosses and teams do that, right?

Countless companies have some form of wellness initiative to encourage exercise, better nutrition, and healthier lifestyles.

It helps — with more than just lower insurance premiums.

A pleasant workplace and culture is important in employee surveys, too. “The Levity Code” says:

Each year, the Great Place to Work Institute asks tens of thousands of employees to rate their experience of workplace factors, including, “This is a fun place to work.” On Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, produced by the Great Place to Work Institute, employees in companies that are denoted as “great” responded overwhelmingly — an average of 81 percent — that they are working in a “fun” environment.

“In the workplace, play is a tool smart entrepreneurs use to bring out the best in people and strengthen relationships between employees,” author Jacqueline Whitmore wrote this year on Entrepreneur.com.

Free your mind

Fun isn’t all about birthday cakes and laughter, of course. It doesn’t mean we don’t work hard, pursue our goals seriously, or treat everything flippantly. There’s pleasure and reward in challenging work, in reaching targets, and in being recognized for your efforts.

It’s especially important to young workers, says Paycom HR expert Kathy Oden-Hall. She says 60 percent of 2015 grads would rather work for a company with a positive social atmosphere even if it meant a lower paycheck.

As Shawn Achor, psychologist and author of “The Happiness Advantage,” says:

Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective and successful at work and in life.

It’s the same with fitness.

“It’s a willingness to know yourself from the inside out and love what you find,” said Jessica Matthews, who won a fitness trainers of the year award at IDEA World.

All this enthusiasm had me fired up. So I kept asking people to let me record clips.

Here is David Weck, creator of the Bosu ball, a piece of balancing exercise equipment found in gyms everywhere.

New Jersey police officer and part-time trainer Russell Flynn brought fitness and wellness challenges to his fellow ultra-competitive officers and found making everything a game sparked their interest.

Shebah Carfagna of Miami volunteers with Special Olympics, where her son participates. She wants to make sure everyone gets in on the fun, including those with special needs.

I met her after the Soul Train class in the video at the top of this post. It was led by LA trainer Tahneetra Crosby, who makes her workouts upbeat because she knows most people typically haven’t enjoyed their past experiences with exercise.

I plan to write more here about workplace communications about wellness and fitness — and about exercise, nutrition and well-being. Let me know your experiences and thoughts with an email: jay@storycroft.com.