Keep Smiling, Keep Singing, It’s Okay to Whistle While You Work!

“Quit singing and get back to work!”
“Settle down! Don’t you have work to do?”
“This work is serious so take it seriously!”
 “I don’t appreciate that you and your team are always laughing and carrying on with everyone else.”

Four statements.   Four assumptions.    Four reasons to make my blood boil.

The first statement was something my boss used to tell me when I was prepping food. I worked at Jack-in-the-Box and my job, between the hours of 5:00 am and 7:30 am, was to cut vegetables and prepare the line cook for a busy lunch hour. I was the only person in the kitchen during these first 2.5 hours of my split-shift. There was a boom box back there and I’d sing while I worked. My supervisor would scream at me from his office to get back to work and then, upon entering the kitchen, would say something like, “oh, I didn’t realize you were working.”

The second statement was from my supervisor at the PX (Post Exchange) in Stuttgart, Germany. For my junior year in high school, I worked in both the “cage” (think of it as the bank for cashiers) and the baby store, which sold everything from bottles to bonnets. After sitting down in the cage for nearly four hours, my energy level would be through the roof so between customers and stocking inventory at the baby store, I often went out into the hallways of the PX and tried to convince people they should come in and buy things.

“Certainly you have a niece or nephew who could use this adorable little sweater?” or “Heh, did you know that we have a box for servicemen and women who can’t afford enough diapers and formula? How about you come in and give a little somepin somepin?”

My boss would yell at me from inside the store but would end up apologizing to the customers who had followed me into the store to purchase something they didn’t even know they needed.

The third statement came from a woman I will call Francie and this was said to me over and over again while I was working for Fish & Game. I supervised about 25 part-time data entry clerks and it was our job to enter fisher/hunter information into the licensing database, manage and distribute thousands of big game tags and king salmon stamps, and microfilm every document for “proof” that a license/tag was properly purchased and processed. I developed games and trivia contests to capitalize on my team’s competitive spirit and to provide them an iota of fun during their incredibly boring six hour shifts. Francie would tell me I wasn’t doing my team (mostly high school and college students) any favors by not demanding quiet and order during this time.

Unlike the three statements above, which I received numerous times during my work, the last statement only came once from a woman I will call Chris. I couldn’t help it but I laughed in her face when she said it. You see, this was a woman who I had never seen smile at me or my employees but always saw her scowling at us!

My HR team, a little group of five, didn’t have offices and instead, sat in various desk set-ups in what had been a breakroom/public area. As such, we were situated “on the way” to accounting, “on the way” to procurement and contracting, and “on the way” to the Commissioner’s office. My employees were constantly playing “host” to nearly every employee who happened to be walking by, and yet we still got our work done! As a matter of fact, we were recognized not once but three times in the brief time I was there for not only meeting our objectives but for going above and beyond and completing special projects that had been on the back burners for years.

My staff was so committed to ensuring the work got done that they would often sneak in after hours or on weekends, only to find me there catching up on things as well. Being exempt from OT, their weekend and evening work bothered me only inasmuch as their work-life balance suffered. However, they assured me they enjoyed what they did and their behavior with each other validated they were having tons of fun. My entire team told me they loved being recognized for having outstanding outcomes and relationships and, therefore, it was well worth putting in the ten or so hours of extra work per week.

I share these four stories with you because I love having fun. And not just today, but every day.

I was a prep cook, a maid, a cashier, a stocker, a gas attendant and a shift supervisor from ages 14 – 19. I was a telemarketer, a TV and stereo salesperson, a waitress, a bartender, an executive assistant and a trainer between the ages of 19 and 23. I was an admin clerk, an admin supervisor, a personnel assistant and an HR services consultant before I reached age 27. I’ve been an HR Manager, HR Director, Organizational Design and Performance Director and Consultant in the 19 years since.

I have hated many of those jobs but my customers and clients would NEVER KNOW IT.
I have highly disliked many of my colleagues and supervisors but my work RARELY SUFFERED FROM IT.
I have been behind the 8 ball, stuck between a rock and a hard place, and under the gun more times than I can count. But here’s the thing: I have excelled in my work, I have overcome barriers and hurdles and I have met my objectiveswhile smiling!

So don’t, for a minute, think that having fun at work takes away from focus and commitment.
Don’t, for a minute, think that enjoying oneself while at work is somehow being selfish or immature.
Don’t, for a minute, think that laughter, singing and smiles at work are proof that complacency and laziness exist.
Don’t, for a minute, think that work and play have to be separated.
And don’t, for a minute, pass judgement on the person who dares to succeed at both just because you haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

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