Why Fun, Enthusiasm, and Creativity is Still Important at Work

Working in libraries can be stressful and there are many important issues we face:

  • social justice
  • open access
  • gender inequality
  • racism
  • poverty
  • digital literacy gaps
  • equitable access
  • free speech
  • intellectual freedom

These are serious and heavy things that we have to navigate daily in our profession, so why is it important for us to find fun and enthusiasm at work? Why is still vital that we stay positive? Why should we enjoy goofy little things while we have very important problems to solve and high stakes issues to work through? Why should we take time to simply be creative and, dare I say it, childlike? While not all of the studies I list in this post are open access, I have listed to the doi’s for each so you can see the abstract to read the synopsis and the result, if you wish.

  • It helps us work better as a team

There have been many studies on emotional contagion. One study found that positive emotions improve cooperation, decrease conflict, and increase perceived task performance (DOI HERE). When we work together, maintaining a positive outlook can truly make a difference. We may not always enjoy working with particular colleagues or we may simply be set with a very difficult task, but a pep talk goes a long way!

  • It lowers our stress levels (and can even improve our learning!)

In a study at Loma Linda University (HERE!), researchers found that laughter increased short-term memory and increased learning ability as well as lowered stress levels. To be clear, this study was conducted in older adults, but there is a chance that this type of study could yield similar results in younger adults.

  • It keeps us healthier

Forbes published an article last year (HERE!) that outlines some of the benefits of fun in the workplace. What I found very interesting was a few studies that they mention tied disengagement to low productivity and lower health:

“In different studies conducted by Gallup and the Queen’s School of Business, disengaged workers had 49 percent more accidents and 37 percent higher absenteeism. Moreover, health care costs at high-stress companies are 46 percent higher.”

While this is a negative example, we can assume the flipped: if you are working in a more enjoyable environment, you will probably be more engaged! Fun and laughter increases our engagement in conversations and, at least for me, that means I’m less likely to try to tackle challenges alone. This can help prevent the disengagement that negatively impacts our health and mental well-being which can lead to burn out.

**Not that this fixes OTHER issues that causes burn out!**

  • Our students are already stressed out enough

Our students are stressed…very stressed. In a 2010 study, Brian C. Patrick, Jennifer Hisley, and Toni Kempler found that out of all of the teacher variables tested, enthusiasm was the most powerful unique predictor of college students’ intrinsic motivation and vitality (DOI HERE). While we may not be in the classroom all the time with our students, we do teach and we are present often. Our own enthusiasm for our teaching matters, especially since we want our students to be motivated!

While we don’t always interact with our students in a classroom., they still see us as instructors. This is a key factor in leveraging encouragement with them even when they’re studying in the library spaces. To be frank, I’ve found that participating in sarcasm and negativity for a few moments truly helps them vent, but those exchanges should be finished off with optimism!

  • Practicing “detail stepping” improves brainstorming to reach goals

According to an article in Psychology Today, practicing what’s called “detail stepping”, or breaking down our thinking into smaller steps than we normally do, can produce better brainstorming.  We often see goals in our organization and try to put the steps between the “here” and “there”, but to actually sit down and practice detail stepping can make that process more automatic in our work environments.

We don’t often think about the actual steps involved in our actions, but when we do, we can visualize and think about alternatives. As we practice this, we can get faster at solving problems, finding alternative answers and creative solutions to challenges, and spend more time in a creative head space.

  • Better work/life balance

One of the things that I’ve noticed about librarians is that we tend to carry our work with us at all times. What matters inside our work often matters to us outside of it as well (just take a look at the list!). This doesn’t mean that we have to be absorbed in this or that our salaries don’t matter, but I’d venture to say that many, if not most, of us fell into this line of work because it already aligned with our beliefs and philosophies. If we already have a tendency to “take it home”, then if we focus on bringing more positive energy to it, it will help balance the emotional range we cover in a day, especially at home!

If you’re interested in how art itself can improve your health and well being, there is lit review published by the American Journal of Public Health that cites over 100 studies on this (Find it HERE).  While art is something that I have always thought of as an “outside work” activity, I’ve found that bringing more artsy activities into my classroom to help create visuals of abstract concepts soothing and fun. Students, their instructor, and I have enjoyed it. It adds a great dimension of learning.

I think we could all use a little more creativity!