WHAT is your work situation really like? Is your office a stale, boring environment, or are there touches of fun and humour to keep interest and enthusiasm levels high?

Can you enjoy a joke with your boss, or is it all just about work? For many Singapore businesses, the latter is usually more common. The idea that employees should be paid to have fun is not widely accepted by employers.

But that may actually be the best way to improve business efficiency - even during an economic downturn. According to Mr Scott Friedman, an international speaker and motivation expert, a livelier workplace atmosphere can translate directly into improved business results.

His upcoming presentation, Employee Innovation For Turbulent Times, at the HR Summit in Singapore, will demonstrate how putting fun and humour back into the workplace can help employers get the most out of their people.

His special plenary session will be a fun but thought-provoking presentation. Participants will learn a number of "take-home strategies" they can put into practice straight away.

Boost creativity

"The most valuable lesson is that work doesn't have to be painful," he says. "It can actually be fun - which leads to productivity, creativity and a better bottom line."

Mr Friedman says taking time out for "play" during the work day helps each staff member recharge the creative sides of their brains. And it is this creative side that will help businesses weather the economic storm currently causing havoc in the markets.

Rather than a sign of slackness or inefficiency, a few laughs in the office can be evidence of higher-level thought.

"Too many people buy into the myth that if you're having fun, you're not getting the job done," Mr Friedman says. "But play is a major part of innovation. It can help you get 'buy-in' to your company's values."

Friedman says the humour message is especially important for Asian business. In order to compete in the globalised, fast-changing world, organisations in this region need to make their creative and problem-solving skills a priority.

Having extensive experience working alongside businesses such as Singapore Airlines and Hyatt Asia, and the Singapore Government, he can attest to the clear value such a change in strategy can offer.

Building bonds

"Humour creates bonds in the workplace. It's the shortest distance between two people," he says. "Humour helps establish a feeling of camaraderie and sets the tone for cooperation, rather than contention."

That helps to make employees happier and more enthusiastic in their work environment. "And happy employees create happy customers - both internal and external."

Many key organisations are aware of this fact, but are perhaps unsure how to go about achieving those results.

Says Mr Friedman: "Forty per cent of the best employers in Asia consider employee engagement their number one priority. They should be helping employees to enjoy what they do every day - leading to employee innovation."

Of course, it is not all about fun and games in the office. Employers need to lighten up a little, but they definitely don't need to turn each day into a circus. A balance is required.

Mr Friedman says the other useful tool for increasing employee engagement is to ensure that staff have interesting jobs and responsibilities.

"You'll find that employees are motivated in direct proportion to how satisfied they are with their daily responsibilities," he says.

By empowering employees to take on new and different tasks, human resource divisions (HR) and leaders will find an immediate and direct benefit in terms of the way employees go about those jobs.

There are other benefits too. Making the workplace more vibrant and positive can help employees become more pro-active in their work.

Mr Friedman believes that when employees are "truly grounded" in the values of their organisation, external troubles don't impact on them negatively. Rather, they create a purpose-driven organisational culture that can keep itself one step ahead of external challenges.