Fun Management

I’ve always believed in having fun at work. In a pressurized workplace, no one actually wants to be told to lighten up, but making someone laugh can take the steam out of an explosive environment. Keeping a sense of humour when under pressure often generates the best solution (sometimes in surprisingly creative ways!) and cultivates a camaraderie among staff that will endure past this week’s deadline.

Successful CEOs know the importance of fun. I’m a big fan of the New York Times column, Corner Office, which interviews successful CEOS  about their leadership styles and corporate culture.  In looking over my faves recently, I noticed that several, including powerhouses such as Kyle Zimmer of First Book and Angie Hicks of Angie’s List, cited the importance of “fun” and being “playful” in working with people and brainstorming solutions. Hicks’s career advice goes so far as to say, “If you’re not having fun at your job, you should quit.”

Linux penguin avatar

Linus Torvalds’s penguin avatar, Tux, doesn’t take work seriously.

Linus Torvalds, a principal writer of Linux, an operating system he simply gave away for free, says he has no interest in saving the world, or even making operating systems free for everyone. He simply didn’t think running a corporate structure to sell Linux looked like fun. In a presentation recorded by the Computer History Museum in 2001, he said, “People think I’m this do-gooder, and they need to understand I did it because it was fun.” Torvalds’s personal emblem, Tux, is a cartoon penguin, the kind of anti-suit.

Counter culture billionaire Richard Branson has more of a social conscience than Torvalds does.  He says he now spends 70% of his time investing in solutions to poverty and environmental issues around the world.  A self-made tycoon who went “from selling records from the boot of a car to space travel, the most ridiculous extreme….” he says about his latest business ventures, “All I can promise  is that they’ll be fun.” The irrepressible Branson, whose dyslexia kept him from standard educational successes, has a broad genuine smile that rarely leaves his face. We can be sure that he – and other successful CEOS – will keep making money and having fun doing it.

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Lousy Family

I’ve Got a Problem with Head Lice:

My family has a problem, and I’d like your opinion of a solution I proposed to the school. My son is in Grade 2 in a Toronto public school. There is a large family in the school with a child in virtually every grade from SK to Grade 5. Each year these kids come back to school after the summer holiday with head lice and spread it around the whole school. I sympathize with the parents to some degree – I know that if one kid gets lice at camp or something, they can quickly spread it to everyone in the family – but the whole school ends up getting these pests, and having to treat their kids! It’s awful, and I think it singles out this family in the worst way because everybody blames them. I proposed to the school that they make these kids stay home from school until it’s cleared up, but they said they couldn’t/wouldn’t do that. I think at least that way Public Health or even some parents from the school could help this family clear this up. What do you think?

Signed,

Had it with head lice

Hi  Had it with Head Lice,

I can sympathize with your kid’s plight. What used to be an ‘old wives’ tale’ from the past – head lice – is now a daily problem in city schools. But the fact is, big families don’t create head lice, or any other ‘pests’, and kids shouldn’t have to miss school because they caught a few bugs. Public health departments (and the City of Toronto) advocate for the usual chemical shampoos, but considering that head lice typically plague young children (ages 3 – 10, I believe, mostly) I think pouring pesticides on your kid’s head should be a last resort.
Instead, follow these easy steps to non-toxic head lice removal:

Non-toxic head lice remedy

You’ll need:

  • a bottle vegetable oil – any kind 
  • shower cap,
  • and a roll of plastic food wrap.

When your child is ready to go to bed at night, soak the kid’s head in oil and rub it into the scalp.Wrap the oily head in plastic wrap and cover it with the shower cap (this keeps the oily mess in place while they sleep). Let the kid sleep in this ‘beauty treatment’ and when they wake up to go to school, shampoo the oil out of their hair (probably take two lathers!). The KEY TO THIS TREATMENT is the second step: You MUST do the oil treatment once more 7 to 10 days later – the oil smothers any living critters, but will not kill all the eggs. They will continue to hatch, but won`t be reproductive for several days, so MAKE SURE you do the oil treatment once more a week later to catch any survivors.

Unite! Lose the Louse!

The families in my neighourhood suffered through head lice together, and this treatment is completely non-toxic and really works. If your child is old enough, they can do it themselves whenever they suspect they’ve been in contact with anyone itchy or scratchy!
Enough said! Thank you for writing with this sticky problem.

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Slacker Boss

I’ve got a problem with my boss

…who expects his staff to work an average nine-to-five day, but always arrives late and leaves most days by 4:30. There is always an excuse about why he has to leave early, if he says anything at all. Long lunches are de rigueur with him, but he sends out “Where are you????” emails if staff aren’t promptly back at their post after a meeting or an outside lunch. It’s humiliating to have someone constantly upbraiding grown adults, many of whom have more experience than this guy. We work in a big organization, but the exec he reports to is retiring soon and doesn’t seem to care about my boss’s comings and goings. What’s the best way to communicate to this person how discouraging it is to have a supervisor slacking off like this and flouting rules he insists others follow?

Yours truly,

Fed up with double standard

Dear Fed Up,

On a certain level, working for someone else means doing it their way. Your boss tells you what to do, and you do it, and then you get paid for it. It’s called working for a living, and virtually all of us, including Queen Elizabeth II, have to just suck it up, put on the name tag, and show up for work. That’s business at its most ape-scratching, primitive level.
Some points in your letter, though, suggest that there are other levels at work. You mention that some of the staff have “more experience”. This suggests to me that the slacker manager may be quite a bit younger than some of you. Are older, more seasoned employees are having trouble “answering” to someone younger than they are?

Older workers, younger boss

If that’s the case, you might as well get over it. As we age, we are constantly placed in a widening pool of people who are younger than we are, and technology being as accelerated as it it is these days, a younger manager – or someone just “out of school”, may actually have MORE experience working in an evolving tech and communications environment. Older staff may have a lot to learn from younger managers, even if their new bosses haven’t been on the job very long. If you think that’s the case in your workplace, try to take a healthier attitude toward respecting your boss’s expertise, and be willing to ask for help or mentoring. Certainly, you will have a healthy reservoir of acquired skills yourself, which you can reciprocally share. One of them may be interpersonal skills such as communicating respectfully via email. Apparently, your boss needs some pointers. I suggest you solicit some generic guidelines from your Communications department, if you have one, that can be distributed to managers about “Effective Email Communications”. Your boss needs to know that firing off demanding, petulant emails is a sure way to aggravate the staff you’re trying to get to cooperate.

Looking for a new job

THAT BEING SAID, it’s hard to believe that your company is still in business with such ‘retiring’ management (meant in both senses of the word). Employees derive inspiration from management that is energized and honest, and recognizes effort and merit. People are discouraged and frustrated by favouritism or cavalier management – the result is lower productivity and sinking morale. If you’re sure that your boss isn’t dealing with a health issue or a family issue that requires special accommodation from the 9 to 5 schedule, you might take a long hard look at why you’re choosing to continue working for an organization that is clearly going to send itself down the tubes eventually. Keeping unproductive and troublesome managers in place, and providing no recourse for their performance evaluation is a recipe for stagnation. If you think the future of your organization looks a lot like its present, you should brush off your networking skills, and make the most of all that time your boss is “off site” by looking for another job.

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Happy Father’s Day!

If your dad already ‘has it all,’ new gifts for Dad’s Day might be a challenge.

My dad grew up as a ‘white’ kid in a northern city, but he had the good fortune to live for a time in San Antonio, Texas, where  he developed a life-long love of Mexican cooking. Tacos made with homemade tortillas baked in a frying pan were a frequent weekend snack when I was growing up in suburban Toronto. Now Dad is 84, and no longer seeks out the hot stuff, but he still enjoys the flavours of the old time cocina mexicana. So, for Father’s Day, I’ve assembled this  do-it-yourself kit:

  • 1  copy of Cook’s Illustrated Mexican Favourites 2012, which is loaded with illustrations showing the ‘method’, and has 60 recipes for every
    A detailed drawing in Cook's Illustrated Mexican Favourites shows how to cook chili peppers

    The cookbook has detailed drawings showing methods for the trickier parts of Mexican cooking, so even a beginner can give it a shot.

    thing from “Better Black Bean Soup” to “Fresh Margaritas” (yeah!!)

  • 1 bag of masa harina
  • 1 bag of dried black beans
  • all the fresh  chilis, tomatoes, tomatillos, limes, avocados, you need for a proper Mexican feast
  • 4 or 5 fresh cobs of corn ( husks needed for tamales)
  • I skipped the cheese and chocolate for the  mole because he doesn’t eat those things

In another day, my father was a weatherman on TV, and we had a little joke: “Chili today, and hot tamale!”

Happy Father’s Day, everyone, and what was your Father’s Day like?

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