You can have fun at work…and live to tell about it

Brace yourself-the words "fun" and "work" are being used together, right here in the same sentence: "What can we say; we just like what we do. There's work and then there's fun, but sometimes, they're one and the same. Sometimes, work is fun."

That bit of philosophy comes from Lane Corbin, office administrator and "fun czar" at Viktor Incentives & Meetings, an incentive travel company and meeting planner with offices in Traverse City and Ann Arbor. Viktor employees have hosted birthday buddy parties, Christmas ornament exchanges, silly sock day, and benefit from champagne toasts for landing new clients.

Corbin sports a sly smile when she talks about Soup Kitchen Wednesdays. "Anything with food is a biggie here," she laughs.

Fifteen Viktor employees organized a lunch group and every Wednesday, one of them brings in soup for the group. "Hungarian mushroom was to die for!" said Corbin. "A few months or so later, it was back by popular demand."

Lest you think that this is just fun and games, there's an organizational component to Soup Kitchen Wednesdays: every recipe gets copied and filed in a binder, in case anyone in the group wants to make it at home.

Travel is a lighthearted business, where you'd expect some mingling of fun and work, but what about the law? That's serious business, right? Yes, but one local law firm makes sure that time outside their long days at the office are testimonies of fun. At Brandt, Fisher, Alward & Roy, a "Fun Committee" made up of attorneys John Grogan and Don Brandt and legal assistant Lori Kies plans at least four employee social events a year, including a bowling outing and a "summer sizzle" party.

"Our activities are intended to add a little fun and a lot of community sense amongst our staff," said Brandt. "I think they are well received because we do not have much staff turnover. It allows us to talk and do things that just could not be done during the work day."

Low staff turnover was a common theme among those companies interviewed that made a point of focusing on fun. At Epiphany Salon, owner and founder Dawnette Wessell said that annual trips to hair shows keeps her staff motivated and working as a team, in a business that can have a high turnover.

"Even though we see each other every day or every other day, when we get together outside of work, we let loose a little more," she said. "We get to know each other better, we think of the people we work with as a whole person instead of just a colleague. It's natural to work better with someone you just came back from a weekend trip with."

Wessell pays for her stylists to attend hair shows, which she says is a good mix of business and fun, and is planning a staff trip to Cedar Point in September.

Trying to conduct business in an area known for vacations can provide some particular challenges, especially in the height of summer, but one local title company has embraced the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. With its location on East Front Street in Traverse City, Corporate Title is right in the thick of many Cherry Festival activities and parades every July. Instead of gritting their teeth over the inconvenience, employees spit cherry pits.

"During Cherry Festival, there's a whole new atmosphere around town, especially for those of us right downtown," said Cheryl Lohner, marketing and customer relations manager. "We have an annual cherry pit spitting contest in our parking lot. We give away prizes for distance, form and style! We have loads of fun."

Employers said that their employees appreciate the gesture behind the activities, with even the simplest plans evoking a positive response for days, or even weeks, after the activity is over. Especially if they helped plan it.

"My advice for those who wish to incorporate 'fun' into their enterprises is that they allow employee input on the activities they choose to have," said Brandt. "Not everyone likes the same thing and you can never please everyone, but an event coordinated and created by input from the employees stands a far greater chance to meet its purpose than one dictated by management. "