Four Ways to Make Hard Work and Service More Fun

By John Griffith and featuring California Conservation Corps member, Zach DeJoe

Many people believe that while hard work and service have great intrinsic value, they don’t leave much room for fun. I disagree. Fun includes things like joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration. In fact, these elements of fun are actually essential to a successful service project.  Here is how to put them into practice on June 19th during your Great Outdoors Month Day of Service to keep your participants’ morale and productivity at an optimum level.

1) Joyful Purpose: Understand and share your project’s story.

Individuals are more receptive to experiencing fun at work if they feel that the project they are engaged in is meaningful. So in addition to making sure that everyone understands the safety considerations, because getting injured isn’t fun, be sure to tell your project’s story. For example, as a crew supervisor in the California Conservation Corps (CCC), I frequently take young adults to the beach where we spend all day removing invasive European beach grass from sand dunes. If I left the explanation of our project as, “we’re here to pull grass,” the work would quickly be perceived as a “boring waste of time” and “sucks.” Smiles would become rarer and sighs would become more common. Instead, I point out (or show a picture of) a small, endangered bird called a snowy plover, and describe how predators are taking advantage of the cover that the invasive grass provides to ambush and gobble up snowy plover chicks. Suddenly grass-pulling has a meaningful and motivating purpose. Once the crew understands that they are helping to save an endangered species (and cute baby endangered species, at that!) the “grass pulling” takes on a joyful purpose and everyone becomes more receptive to fun—and more productive. You may not have something as cool as a fluffy baby plover chick to illuminate your project’s joyful purpose, but always take the time to make sure that you and all the other participants understand why you are doing the project and who and/or what is positively impacted by the outcome of your collective effort.  

2) Awe-ha Moments: Taking time to explore worksite discoveries.

Awe-ha moments are seldom planned and should never be ignored. These instances are stumbled upon while working and are able to invoke a sense of belonging to something more vast than routine life. When experienced as a group, awe-ha moments provide a bonding opportunity that can lead to excitement and therefore more fun. They can bring disparate members together and make it easier for the group to coalesce into a team. In fact, Dacher Ketner, a University of California professor who researches the feeling of awe says that, “brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward interest of others.”

Lucky for us, awe-ha moments are awaiting discovery all over a project site! We just have to be committed to exploring their mysteries. We have to choose to be present when they present themselves. Awe-ha moments are the baby hummingbirds peeking over the rim of the nest that was discovered in a bush while weeding the community garden, the yellow-spotted black salamander found while moving the log off the trail, the strange creature washed ashore and gently poked during the beach cleanup, and the bright red flower resisting the pavement by blooming through a crack in the parking lot of the school that you’re renovating. Most awe-ha moments are from the natural world, and frequently experienced in the middle of the city. Taking time to share in the wonder of these discoveries will increase both the levels of fun and productivity of your participants.

3) Magnificent Mood Magnifiers: Bring snacks, drinks, and music. By Zach DeJoe

Hello, this is Zach DeJoe, a Corpsmember on John Griffith’s crew. I’m jumping in on his article to give the Millennial perspective on how to have fun with Magnificent Mood Magnifiers (MMM’s). MMM’s are little interjections into your Great Outdoors Day of Service that have the ability to change the flavor and rhythm of your time together. Let’s start with flavor. While in the CCC, corps members are responsible for bringing their own food to work, but volunteers may have arrived to your Day of Service assuming that food was going to be provided. Or, there may be volunteers coming from areas where quality food isn’t readily accessible—food deserts are common in some areas of our nation. By making sure your Day of Service project includes healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, yogurt, and of course, water for hydration, participants may avoid occurrences of fatigue, reduce episodes of low blood sugar, or worse. It is much easier to have fun when you’re energized with food and fully hydrated. And anyone snacking on what you bring will consider you to be pretty cool.

Over the course of the day, you might want a little something more than snacks to lift your spirits. Listening to music just may be the best pick-me-up tool at our disposal. When asked what could make service work more enjoyable, our CCC crew unanimously—and all at once—proclaimed the gift of music as the answer. Not only has music been scientifically shown to boost physical performance and increase endurance, it has also been proven to reduce stress, elevate mood, and reduce anxiety. And these are just some of the beneficial effects music can have on both our bodies and minds. When deciding on what sort of music to play during a day of service, it is important to choose something that won’t offend your fellow volunteers or the community, probably something more mainstream. Basically what you want is something upbeat and positive that is suitable for your crew. Working with a bunch of 20-somethings may require something very different from working with a crew that may be a bit more long in the tooth. Balancing your Pharell with your Conway Twitty may be a difficult task, but it’s worth the effort when having more fun is the goal.

4) Choreographed Acts of Celebration: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Lunch breaks are not just for eating anymore. They are also for dancing. Dancing can add way, way, way more fun to your Great Outdoors Day of Service. A choreographed dance that is easy to learn is guaranteed to raise morale. In 2014, I was invited to present at the National Geographic Bioblitz Event in Golden Gate National Parks. Since there were no specific details about what my presentation was supposed to include, I created a dance, taught it to some CCC youth, and we performed it onstage at the event. Since then I have received Bioblitz Dance video responses from all over the world. Recently, over three days’ worth of lunch breaks, I taught the dance to my current crew during a week that we were restoring the coastal dunes AKA “grass pulling.” Like I mentioned earlier, grass pulling can be perceived as monotonous after a couple days, and while the cute baby plover chick story helps, some projects just need a couple dance moves. And the lunchtime-dance breaks definitely did their job. During the practices, I saw every Corpsmember smile. I heard every Corpsmember laugh. And the fun from those lunch-time practices spilled into the working hours. Everyone agreed that it made the project a lot more fun. This has been my experience every time that I’ve taught a group of people the Bioblitz Dance. They laugh and smile through the practice sessions and feel more connected to one another by the time their moves are in sync. I invite you to do the Bioblitz Dance during your Day of Service. Visit my Youtube channel to learn from the tutorial videos and watch the dozens of other Bioblitz Dance video responses from all over the world. https://www.youtube.com/user/TotemMagicGoingMAD 

In addition to joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration, there are a range of things that you can do to add fun to your Great Outdoors Day of Service. From starting with an icebreaker activity, to playing an inclusive game, to some friendly work competition, to a closing circle where the participants express gratitude for one another and the collective mission, your fun potential is realized by your willingness to be creative.

Be very mindful that regardless of how hard the work is or what kind of project you are doing on your Day of Service, fun arises naturally from a group with a high morale. A quick search on the Internet will reveal numerous studies proving that high workplace morale also leads to more production and less accidents. Morale is highest in a group where participants feel respected, welcomed, and included. So start the fun happening just by giving everyone a welcoming, “hello.”  And then move forward with some joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration. By applying these techniques everyone will realize and appreciate that making the world a better place doesn’t just require a bunch of hard work, it is also provides opportunities to have a lot of fun.