Funny medicine?

Molly Rowe, Senior Editor, Leadership , October 19, 2007

Tuesday was what may be the greeting card industry's least celebrated holiday: National Boss Day. Did your balloon bouquet arrive? Did your staff hold a breakfast in your honor? If not, you may want to think about why. Or, according to a recent Inc. magazine article, you may want to consider making your organization more fun.

According to Inc., more companies are "overcoming the fun deficit" by making fun a core company value. These companies take fun far beyond the annual holiday party and summer BBQ by offering perks like onsite spa services, doggy daycare, and nap rooms. These CEOs encourage laughter, and they welcome pranks and practical jokes, claiming that a culture of fun correlates to happy employees, loyal customers, and a thriving business. A big fan of fun, I was intrigued by this story and wondered: Is there a place for fun in healthcare?

I informally surveyed ten hospitals, asking the question, "Does your hospital attempt to cultivate an atmosphere of fun through regular ongoing events or services?" Aside from one terse, "No, we have nothing like that," most hospitals say they encourage fun but it's usually through once-a-year events or a patient-safety fair--not exactly a week in Las Vegas.

Some hospitals have formed entertainment committees, devoted to cultivating fun on an ongoing basis. OSF Healthcare in Illinois takes fun so seriously that its Employee Activity Committee has a mission statement: To promote fun and fellowship in the workplace and beyond. What's more fun than a mission statement? The hospitals with whom I spoke see a place for fun, but often that place is outside hospital walls--cruises, water parks, and Broadway shows--places where patient care won't be threatened. This is not to say individual units and departments aren't having fun, it's just not company-sponsored and it's usually restricted to non-clinical areas.

One hospital, Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, seems to have successfully intertwined entertainment with patient safety. Rather than restrict fun to specific areas, they provide alternative ideas that allow everyone to join in. Monthly "Feel Good Fridays" have different themes. In October, for example, units decorate for Halloween, being careful to follow specific patient safety guidelines where necessary. They hold an annual baked bean cook-off, in which staff members submit their best bean recipes, and the cafeteria cooks and serves. On Jeans Day, clinical staff who can't wear denim don t-shirts depicting jeans.

Healthcare is serious--it is, after all, life and death. But, perhaps more than in any other industry, that serious environment needs a healthy dose of humor. The trick is finding a balance between entertainment and risk. Fun can bring liability in any industry. But, according to the companies in Inc. and hospitals like Sinai, the business benefits of the occasional belly laugh far outweigh the dangers. How about you? Email me to share how you're incorporating "fun" into your organization's culture.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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