All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, which is why I find that the IT department is very often the dullest place in a company.
That’s quite a paradox when you think that the IT department very often harbours the brightest people, intellectually speaking.
But what makes us so dull? Is it a question of nature or nurture? Probably a bit of both, to be honest. I don’t think that we can do too much about the nature aspect - we are what we are and always will be (cue hundreds of complaints from personal development gurus).
But we can do something positive to address the nurture perspective, by making our working environment less oppressive and by lightening up collectively, and individually, from time to time.
IT has become far too serious for IT’s own good and our staff frequently suffer, physically and emotionally, from the relentless pressures upon us to deliver more with less.
Almost every week I meet yet another IT worker showing serious signs of fatigue; it is a widespread problem that harms not only the well-being of the individual but also the long-term prospects of the employer, by eroding the resilience of that key resource of every business: their own people. We seem to have become conditioned to working longer and longer hours, usually for less and less job satisfaction.
Small wonder, then, that IT is becoming such a dull place, too many of us have lost, or at least seriously misplaced, our sparkle.
So what can we do about it then? Well, we could start by putting a little bit of fun back into our working day.
Please note that I am not advocating a three-ring circus in the data centre, or even open hilarity in the development office. That wouldn’t do us any good, if the rest of the business already thinks that we are a sad bunch of clowns.
What I would like to see though is a giggle room or corner in every IT shop; seriously. Somewhere for stressed and, dare I say, bored IT staff to lighten the load with a smile and a laugh.
After all, most companies accommodate their nicotine addicts by providing them with smoking rooms, or allowing time outside the building to indulge their habit. So if we can have fag breaks, why not gag breaks?
The giggle room could be a focal point for letting off steam and a natural gathering place for all of those Dilbert cartoon strips adorning the workplace. The walls of the giggle room could be constructed from dry-wipe whiteboard material, giving us a great graffiti opportunity.
Think of how much money we would save by not having to redecorate our toilet cubicles to remove witticisms.
OK, I am getting a little bit carried away with the idea now. But the message is serious. As final evidence, I would like to cite two examples not hitherto renowned for their sense of humour: Microsoft and the Germans.
Microsoft UK hit the headlines recently when it emerged that they had commissioned comic creation David Brent to improve staff development, so humour obviously works for them. And even our hardworking colleagues in Germany, like many others around the world, will be celebrating Carnival or Mardi Gras next week.
In the meantime, those of us in the UK office will have to be content with Pancake Day. If that ain’t dull, I don’t know what is.
Why should we have to make do with a bit of fried batter and golden syrup, why can’t we have a bit of the fun, please? Why don’t we declare Shrove Tuesday to be our National IT Fun Day instead?
What do you think?
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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was first published in February 2004